At a glance
It’s common for young kids to get frustrated.
How you react can make a big difference.
Understanding why your child is frustrated can help you find ways to respond.
All young kids get frustrated sometimes and act out. But kids who learn and think differently might do this a lot — and in ways that seem over the top.
Knowing what’s behind your child’s behavior can help you keep your cool. It can also help you respond in a way that keeps your frustration from fueling your child’s.
Here are some examples of behaviors you might see, and helpful ways to respond.
Frustration about following directions
The behavior you’re seeing: It’s time to pick up toys at the end of the day. Instead of putting them away, your child puts them all in a pile in the middle of the room.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is just being defiant.
The frustration behind the behavior: Your child might not know what to do first. Many kids who learn and think differently don’t always know where to begin a task. They might have trouble understanding the steps that have to happen to clean up. (Learn more about trouble following directions.)
A helpful way to respond: “There are a lot of toys here. Start with the plastic animals. When you’re done with that, we’ll decide what to tackle next.”
Frustration about social situations
The behavior you’re seeing: At a gathering with friends, your child leaves the other kids playing in one room and goes to play alone in another room.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is being rude.
The frustration behind the behavior: Not understanding how to join the group. Some kids who learn and think differently struggle with social cues. Or they might not know how to join a conversation.
A helpful way to respond: “You were so excited to have your friends over, but now you’re not playing with them. I’ll help you come up with some ways you all can play together.”
Frustration about self-control
The behavior you’re seeing: Your kids are playing well together. But suddenly, your youngest gets rough and keeps grabbing toys away from a sibling.
Before you understand, you might think: Your child just refuses to share.
The frustration behind the behavior: Difficulty waiting patiently. Some kids who learn and think differently have trouble with self-control.
A helpful way to respond: “I can see you’re having a hard time waiting your turn. After you take a break to calm down, come back and apologize. Then we can talk about how to share with your brother so you both get enough turns.”
Kids can get frustrated when they’re unsure how to do what they’re told.
Staying calm helps your child stay calm, too.
Understanding what’s behind your child’s frustration can help you find solutions.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.