Question: When my child can’t do something like their math homework, they get frustrated, angry, and give up. How do I teach them to be more resilient and have more patience?
Answer: What your child may need is frustration tolerance. Resilience is built over time by learning to tolerate frustration.
The next time your child struggles with something like their math homework assignment, you notice they are increasingly frustrated.
Introduce them to what I call the frustration volcano.
What is the frustration volcano? The frustration volcano is a way to help your child visualize what’s happening inside of their body.
The next time you notice your child getting frustrated with their math homework, say, “did I ever tell you about the frustration volcano that lives inside of me?” Then, when you have their attention continue, “well, when I get frustrated because I can’t do something, I have this feeling inside me that grows and grows. It’s really hard to keep it from bursting out of me. Sometimes it does burst out, just like an angry volcano. I call it my frustration volcano. I wonder if you might have a frustration volcano also? You do?”
“Hmmm, what do you think would help.” Then pause and see if your child has any ideas. “You know what I’m thinking? The next time you feel your frustration building up inside you, come and find me when you feel the anger begin to build. When it goes from here to here.” Use a thermometer or ruler to help your child visualize a moderate rise in frustration. “Don’t wait until it goes to here and starts to explode out of you.”
When your child comes to you, what do you do? You help them bring their feelings of frustration back down to a tolerable level. The goal is to teach them to tolerate the frustration, not get rid of the frustration.
There are many mindfulness methods for tolerating frustration. I teach my grandkids the Hot Cocoa Breath regulation skill.
What is hot cocoa breath? A hot cocoa breath is a deep breath with a slow, longer out-phase than in-phase. It’s what you would do if you wanted to cool down a cup of hot cocoa that has marshmallows on top.
You pretend to cool the hot cocoa by slowly blowing out your breath while being careful not to dislodge the marshmallows. The neuroscience for this tells us that the deep in-breath and slow out-breath acts as a reset of the nervous system to move your child from the dysregulation of fight or flight, back into a zone where you can connect, co-regulate, and help them eventually regulate.
Follow up the slow, steady breaths with some positive self-talk. One of my favorite mantras for building resilience is: “Not knowing, means my brain is growing.” or “not knowing something, sits next to learning something new. How cool to learn new things!”
We help our kids build resilience by teaching them to notice and pay attention to their internal feelings and sensations like frustration. They will learn to recognize the feeling when it starts to build and take action before it builds to an intolerable level, sending them into meltdown mode. Noticing their feelings combined with calming techniques and positive self-talk builds resilience.