Some kids feel frustrated or angry more often than other kids do, especially kids who struggle in school. Maybe your child is having these feelings a lot or doesn’t know how to express them constructively. This can make it harder for kids to learn, feel good about themselves, and accomplish goals.
You can help your child manage these feelings better—and it starts with understanding the difference between them.
The Connection Between Anger and Frustration
Frustration and anger are related emotions, but they’re not the same thing. Kids may feel frustrated when obstacles get between them and what they want, or keep them from reaching their goals. This can make them feel vulnerable and upset.
Anger, on the other hand, is usually a response to a threat, being embarrassed, or feeling like something isn’t fair. Ongoing frustration can lead to anger, which is a stronger emotion. Kids might express anger by yelling, pushing, fighting, or acting out.
Recognizing Your Child’s Frustration
Kids who struggle in school can get frustrated if they feel like they’re falling short, even when they try hard. Frustrated kids often say things like:
“It doesn’t matter whether I work on my homework for 20 minutes or two hours. Either way, it comes back all marked in red.”
“I knew that history chapter on the bus this morning. But by the time I took the quiz after lunch, I couldn’t remember half of it.”
“Kids don’t want to be friends with me and I don’t know why.”
“No matter how hard I try, I just can’t keep up in class.”
If they get too frustrated too often, kids can start to feel powerless. They might think that no matter how hard they try, they won’t get better grades, make friends, or be understood or appreciated. This is called “learned helplessness.”
Kids who feel this way—chronically frustrated—might:
Just sit quietly in class, not engaged and not trying.
Avoid taking risks or trying new things because they think they’ll probably fail.
Think they have no control over their ability to succeed at something, whether it’s in school, extracurricular activities, or in social situations.
Clown around to distract people from things they don’t do as well as other kids.
If you think your child is frustrated, but you’re not sure why, try using a frustration log. It can help you find patterns that get to the heart of what your child is struggling with.
How you respond when your child is frustrated can make a big difference, too. Get tips on what to say when your child gets frustrated. And learn about common reasons for frustration in teens and tweens.
Recognizing Your Child’s Anger
Kids who struggle in school might not just feel frustrated. They might get angry, too. Anger often comes from feeling like:
They’ve been dealt a bad hand in life.
It’s not fair that things are easy for everyone else.
No one understands them.
Kids may express their anger through tantrums, verbal outbursts, swearing, throwing things, and fighting. Acting out like this isn’t about being “bad.” It usually happens when kids don’t have other ways of coping or managing what’s bothering them.
Kids might direct their anger at classmates, teachers, coaches, or their own families. In fact it’s common for kids to sit on their anger all day at school and then come home and erupt.
This can be frustrating and confusing for parents who desperately want to help. Keep in mind, though, that kids often do this because they feel comfortable at home. They feel free to let the anger out around people they trust.
Adults often have self-control and use coping skills so they don’t take it out on family when they come home. (Together, these skills are called self-regulation.) Kids don’t always have those skills yet, though, especially kids who are impulsive.
You may also want to connect with your child’s teacher to find out what’s happening at school. Ask how things are going with other students. You may even want to specifically ask the teacher to look out for bullying or teasing. By working together, you’ll be better equipped to pinpoint what’s going on and figure out next steps.