More From the Land of Low Frustration Tolerance

June 07, 2019

A while back we talked to you guys about a term that I made up called FID (Frustration Intolerance Disorder).

We offered suggestions as to how to address it ( Part II: Frustration Intolerance), but it looks like no one is listening, because I see the trend continuing.

Here are some of the hallmark features:

  • Small difficulty leading to large reactions.
  • Limited capacity to problem solve.
  • Weak coping.
  • Anticipation of task and shutting-down prior to starting (thinking that the task is too large to tackle).
  • Meltdowns

Take young Braden, age 7, a child I recently evaluated.  Sensing that Braden was one of these FID style kids, I tried to prep him prior to giving him certain tasks.  For example, when putting down the spelling page which has 40 lines on the page for potential words to spell, I informed Braden that he was only doing some of the words, not all of them (no one does them all).

“Braden,” I started,  “We’re going to spell some words on this page.  Now, don’t worry (I could see the storm clouds quickly brewing), you’re not going to be doing this whole page…I promise you.”

After about 10 words, Braden started to dramatically seize his hair while tensing up, “Oh my God,” he exclaimed, “We have to do all of these???” (Remember, I told him we weren’t.)

(I’m not sure how it became such a common phrase, but I hear young kids exclaiming, “Oh, my God,” a great deal expressing their personal exasperation.)

After evaluating Braden, I talk to his mom about some of his reactions and his low-level frustration tolerance.

Shaking her head showing me non-verbally that she totally understood what I was saying about his lack of frustration tolerance, she said, “I see it all the time.  We’re so worried about keeping the child happy that he almost never has to deal with frustration.  I see it in our house and his friends and cousins.  None of them can cope with the slightest difficulty.”

(It always helps me when the moms get it.)

From where I sit, too often these kids are quickly “diagnosed” ADD or ADHD. In fact, when a Braden style child is brought in to the physician’s office, it’s all but teed up to certify that the child has a medical condition, some neurobiological imbalance that is in need of treatment of a medical nature.

Hey, I get it. It’s a whole lot easier giving the kid his daily dose of Vyvanse or Concerta than having to deal with his reactions of exasperation and all of his,  “Oh, my ‘Godding’” reactions.   (In addition, as a side benefit with the “diagnosis,” a 504  Plan may get squeezed out of the school.)

I really don’t know what’s contributing to what I perceive to be an increase of kids who have low tolerance for frustration, but I have my suspicions.  In the way back machine there was a word that one doesn’t hear very often – “grit.”

How does one get grit?  Certainly, it does not come by making nice all of the time.

It also doesn’t come either by simply medicating it.

Grit is a skill (quality) that needs to be practiced over time.

When the child shows signs of working through his/her difficulty, notice it and offer a nice comment.  A simple, “That’s nice Braden – you really worked through it.”

You don’t need to go over the top with clapping and statements like, “You’re so amazing, Braden.”  Keep it mild and low key.

Stay with it.  Keep encouraging working through frustration and  your child will incrementally increase his ability to “tough it out.”

Copyright, 2019
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All comments (2)
  • Stanley Sterenberg
    June 07, 2019 at 11:55 pm

    The ability to tolerate frustration is a difficult thing to teach, but it's a worthwhile pursuit. At the end of this comment I will include […] Read MoreThe ability to tolerate frustration is a difficult thing to teach, but it's a worthwhile pursuit. At the end of this comment I will include a link to a delightful Ted talk (only five minutes long) about how the ability to tolerate frustration is a key predictor of later success, both personal and academic. I used to assign my students (6th and 7th graders) one homework in which I invited them to reflect on some activity which was at first difficult, but over time, they had mastered. It could have been anything -- learning a difficult piece of music, mastering an athletic skill or a dance move, learning to tie ones shoes, or something academic, such as mastering the times table. In the assignment, the students were invited to recall their initial frustrations, and then to describe their feelings when the task had been (virtually) mastered. I hoped they would be able to develop a sense of how sustained application brought about tangible results, and to apply that when attempting to learn new and challenging material. Here is the link (it's adorable, starring a series of young students): Read Less

    • Thanks for the comment and the link. I've had some computer issues and have not been able to log on properly. I think […] Read MoreThanks for the comment and the link. I've had some computer issues and have not been able to log on properly. I think you make a great point about learning one thing and reflect on feelings along with the value of working through the difficulty. I don't find teachers having this kind of conversations these days from what I am being told. Also, some of the kids I am referencing are very young - 5,6, 7. Major meltdowns over slightest frustration. Hope you are well. Read Less


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