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Frustration Tolerance

Patience and persistence describe how a child copes with frustration and how likely she is to stick with a problem or challenge in order to find a solution.

Children who are “easily frustrated” tend to get very upset the minute something doesn’t go their way, have a difficult time waiting for attention or help, and give up quickly when faced with a challenge.

For the children in your care who have a low frustration tolerance, try the following strategies:

  • Help children learn to wait. While they wait, talk to them about what you are doing. For example, you might say, “I’m heating up your bottle right now.” Or, “I will help you in a minute. I will finish feeding Mikey and then help you with that toy.”
  • Help children cope with frustration. When they fall apart, let them know that you appreciate how difficult it can be: “Puzzles are hard! It makes you so mad when the bear won’t fit in the space.” Then become their coach—help them think through solutions without doing the work for them. Suggest or demonstrate strategies for solving whatever problem they are facing. One good idea is to break the challenge into manageable parts: “Why don’t you put your thumb in the mitten first? Then we will work together to get each of your other fingers in the glove.”
  • Use humor. This can reduce tension. For example, you yell at the block that has fallen: “You silly block! You just won’t stay on the tower! Well, we’re not giving up!”

Children who are persistent usually keep trying when faced with a challenge, are slower to “lose it” when they don’t get their way, and can often tolerate waiting for their needs to be met.

For the children in your care who are persistent, try the following strategies:

  • Join in their play. It’s easy to let persistent children play alone for long periods because they are less demanding. But they still need and benefit from your time and attention.
  • As they grow, let the children know that everyone needs help sometimes and that you are available. Sometimes, children get so much positive feedback for being independent that it’s difficult for them to ask for help when they do need it.
  • Look for fun and challenging activities that will help persistent children build and expand their skills. Since these children can tolerate frustration more easily, “stretching” activities that are difficult but achievable can be enriching and expand their learning. For example, give a toddler a collection of different-sized cardboard boxes and ask her to build the tallest tower she can.


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