Helping Your Child Deal with Frustration

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By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

If you’ve ever heard your child say things like, “I can’t do it,” or “I’ll never figure this out,” during homework time, you’ve probably wondered how you can help him or her overcome such feelings of self-doubt and frustration.

Negative thoughts tend to grow upon themselves, and thus, a child who struggles in school is more likely to develop a pessimistic attitude about it altogether. How can you help your child learn to avoid letting frustration get the best of him or her?

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Here are several tips:

Empathize with your child. To an adult, it might seem unreasonable for a child to become exasperated or angry about a difficult homework problem, but before you lecture your child about the importance of positive thinking, first acknowledge how he or she is feeling. Never diminish your child’s frustrations as silly or illogical.

Encourage your child to develop calming strategies. If you notice that your child is highly aggravated during homework time, take a break. If he or she is stuck on one problem, move on to an easier one so that he or she can experience the feelings associated with accomplishment. Teach your child to recognize when he or she needs to take a step back from a stressful situation and get a handle on his or her emotions.

Set attainable goals. Setting goals for your child can be an excellent motivator, but setting unrealistic or developmentally inappropriate goals can do more harm than good, causing a child to feel inadequate and that he or she will never be smart enough. Whether the goal is becoming a better reader or a better basketball player, it helps to break it down into steps so that your child can see that big goals take time and planning to achieve.

Turn negatives into positives. Though your child might think otherwise, one bad grade -or even several bad grades – does not mean he or she will never succeed. Point out your child’s strengths and recognize his or her efforts. Rather than only focus on those missed math problems, call attention to the concepts that your child seems to grasp well. Rather than withhold approval until your child raises a grade to an A, praise any and all improvement.

Teach your child to persevere. The age-old phrase, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is easier said than done for a young child. Failure leads to anxiety and embarrassment, which causes many children to feel it’s better to give up than to continue failing. Explain to your child that any ambition takes commitment and patience. Talk about someone he or she admires – whether that’s a professional athlete or a family friend – and share times that this role model had to work hard to overcome an obstacle. Also, remind your child of times he or she surmounted a challenge to succeed.

Even the most easygoing children will sometimes experience feelings of frustration and anger about school and life. Teach your child to talk and think positively and believe in himself or herself, and tell your child often that you believe in him or her, too. By doing so, you will be raising a confident child who is not discouraged by occasional failure and is willing to keep trying, even when things get hard.

Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has been helping children succeed in school for more than 30 years.


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