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Home > Support > Family Life > What to do about a bright child who gets easily frustrated and "explodes"?
Question: I want to continue homeschooling but my oldest child is so easily frustrated with a variety of tasks, from certain schoolwork, to fixing her hair, to catching a softball. She is bright but thinks she must master the task the first time. If not, she has an emotional explosion, wailing and upsetting the younger children. It takes a good half hour to blow over, during which time I put her by herself, and/or have her write scripture-based statements about perseverance. However, these incidents are so draining (emotionally and time-wise) to me and the family, that I wonder what is best for her and the family. Would she be better off in school? What can I do to help her at home?

Dear Mom,

Thank you for your question. It opens up quite a bit of discussion concerning the ways we humans handle frustration. It is of course a lifelong challenge to understand frustration and our response to it. Your daughter is very blest to have a mother who seeks to not only help her through this time but understand it as well.

I have a daughter who is more easily frustrated than her siblings. She seems to be "spring loaded" to outbursts when she is unable to understand or master a skill on the first try. Her behavior is striking in comparison to those siblings who have such a steady demeanor. I have since come to understand that appearances can be deceiving.

The children who appear to be holding their frustration are in fact holding too much of it inside and causing inner turmoil. This inner turmoil sometimes reaches the boiling point and an explosion is inevitable. My daughter who lets go of her frustration readily at least gets everything out in the open. After the air clears she is fine.

As a parent, and one who has to deal with this variance in temperament, I had to come to some kind of middle ground. The key was my personal response to each person's reaction to challenge. I had to understand that temperance is the goal that I should be striving to teach. I had to let go of hurtful comparisons that only fueled frustration.

When my daughter would begin to get upset it was time to step in and gently instruct her to pay attention to the way she was feeling. Letting her know that I was trying to understand her feelings without judging her was key in my ability to teach her positive ways to handle frustration. In other words it is not just about admonishing the behavior but about compassion and our desire to empathize concerning feelings.

All persons do much better when we are allowed to explain our feelings without fear of judgment. Feelings are powerful and as such have the ability to upset us individually in ways that may be hard to articulate. When someone cares enough to want to understand what we are feeling then this opens a very important doorway. This doorway allows us to express in words what we are feeling and in so doing helps us get a handle on the emotions.

Certainly talking with your daughter is an important first step. But lay the ground rules for her behavior. In other words let it be known that there are certain behaviors that will not be tolerated (physical violence, abusive language or self hatred). Give her concrete responses to her feelings which she can practice until there is a time that the two of you can talk. (I have told my daughter that if she feels herself getting angry in a task it is time to stop the task and walk away from it until she calms down.) There are others, but this is one that seems the most helpful. Allow for a cooling off period before the talking begins. And always begin the time together with love and compassion. "Tell me how that made you feel."

As my daughter has matured I have seen her handle frustration with more ease. She still slips up, but then don't we all. I will tell you that when it came time to master the skill of batting during this past baseball season, I was amazed at her perseverance. One evening during a game she hit a home run, over the fence. Her smile was electric. In the same game she struck out. Her disappointment was real. After the game she said, "You win some, you lose some. It's part of the game." As a parent I could have shouted to Heaven with joy. I praised the Lord and thanked Him for His generous mercy.

Remember our response to childhood challenges should model Jesus' response to the challenges we present to Him. Love, compassion, empathy and a sincere desire to understand go a long way towards teaching. I have found that it is easier to parent in this way than through harsh rules and goals which serve to exhaust my resources and make me feel inadequate or like a failure.

You are a loving mother who desires to help your dear daughter master this challenge. Go forth with the best that Jesus has given you and you will go much farther.

Jesus, we love You and accept Your profound love for us, Your little ones. Please anoint each mother with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as we move through the days in teaching and instructing our children. St. Ann, pray for us.

Sending out a prayer,

Rita Munn

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