At a glance
Kids who learn and think differently might get frustrated more often than other kids.
That can lead them to act out in ways that seem confusing.
Knowing what’s behind the behavior lets you respond in more helpful ways.
When your child pushes your buttons, you might think it’s about testing limits (or your patience). Sometimes that is the case. But for kids who learn and think differently, some things that seem simple can actually be really hard. And that can lead them to get frustrated and act out.
Knowing what’s behind the behavior can help you keep your cool. It can also help you react in a way that makes it easier for your child to cope. Here are examples of frustrations you might see, and ways to respond.
Frustration about following directions
The behavior you’re seeing: It’s time to turn off the TV to get ready for bed. But your child just grins and sits on the remote so you can’t take it away.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is trying to provoke you.
The frustration behind the behavior: Lots of kids who learn and think differently have trouble going from one thing to the next. They might need extra help with transitions, like clear directions about what to do and when.
A helpful way to respond: “I know you want to keep watching. I gave you a ‘five-minute warning.’ Right now, it’s time to get ready for bed. Turn off the TV.”
Frustration about homework
The behavior you’re seeing: Your child bursts into tears while doing homework and starts scribbling all over the page.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is trying to get out of doing homework.
The frustration behind the behavior: Homework can make kids who learn and think differently feel very anxious. They might be afraid to make mistakes. Or they might not know how to get the work done.
A helpful way to respond: “I see you’re upset. What’s going on? Let’s try to find a way to salvage this page. Then we can talk about how to make homework time easier in the future.”
Frustration about social situations
The behavior you’re seeing: At the table, your child keeps burping loudly on purpose while other family members are talking.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is trying to hog all the attention.
The frustration behind the behavior: Some kids who learn and think differently have trouble following conversations. They might not know how to join in without interrupting people. And they may get so frustrated that they act out.
A helpful way to respond: “You’re interrupting. If you’d like to join the conversation or leave the table, say ‘excuse me.’”
Frustration about completing tasks
The behavior you’re seeing: You ask your child to set the table. And 10 minutes later, when you ask why only the plates are out, your child says, “I’m not setting the stupid table!”
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is being rude.
The frustration behind the behavior: Your child might not know what a table should look like when it’s set.
A helpful way to respond: “It may seem ‘stupid’ to you, but I need the table set. Let’s set one place together and you can do the rest. It doesn’t need to look exactly the way it does when I set it. We can always move things around when we sit down.”
Learn more about helping kids cope with frustration.
Routines that seem simple can be challenging for kids who learn and think differently.
How you respond to frustration can make a big difference.
Acknowledging your child’s frustration can help you both keep your cool.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.