Easy! 1 Surprising Tool to Help Children Cope With Frustration

One afternoon I was watching my daughter play with her fruit pie. She was using fine motor tools I bought on Amazon to scoop up the small pieces of fruit and put them in the pie. She was struggling. I could tell she was getting agitated and I was waiting for her to cry. To my surprise she didn’t! Instead she starting talking to herself and using positive self-talk. 

“I can do it all by myself. You just stick it. Ah, I need help!!!!”

“Izzy, you just put your fingers like this.”

A few seconds later, “I need help mommy!!”

Though she was frustrated, she kept with it. I sat back and watched. I didn’t intervene though she was asking for help. After a few minutes, she figured out how to do it all by herself and I could see her smiling with pride. 

She was using self-talk to walk herself through a difficult situation. This is a huge part of emotional intelligence! Though I see more parents and teachers talking about emotional intelligence, it isn’t something that is always directly taught. 

Do you have a child with big emotions? Do you have a child who throws a tantrum on the floor because he can’t get the block to sit “right?” In these moments, it’s difficult to know what to do as a parent.

Should we intervene? Should we let them struggle? This article is for you!

As a school psychologist I always enjoyed teaching my students how to deal with frustrations by using self-talk. Learning positive self-talk is a great first step in building coping skills and emotional intelligence.

Another strategy is teaching kids to use I-statements (read more here). Around preschool age, kids start to engage in simple self-talk. You may hear them talk to themselves as they play. As parents we want to build this type of talk and encourage kids to encourage themselves!

Self-talk in kids is so important and it is something we should model and talk about with our children.  Kids face frustrations and they don’t always know how to respond, but directly teaching them skills like this will make a huge difference.

Do you have a child who gets frustrated easily? As parents we aren't always sure how to respond. Try teaching your child self-talk! It will build their emotional intelligence and help your low frustration tolerance child to deal with adversity. #parenting

Step 1: Learn –  What is Self-Talk in Kids?

First let’s talk about what self talk is. Self-talk is what you say to yourself in your head or what you say out loud. Basically what you say to yourself. It can be negative or positive. You may not even realize you are saying things until you stop and think about it.

Do you encourage yourself throughout the day? Do you complain a lot in your head?

Start thinking about what you are thinking! Many times the things we think have a great impact on our words, feelings and actions.

When our daughter was faced with the difficult fine motor task of picking up the small berries she was frustrated. It was harder than she anticipated and she quickly started moaning “Mommy I need help. I need HELP!”

At the same time, she was fighting her frustration because she really wanted independence. I’m not sure she was totally aware of what she was doing, but shortly after she asked for help she said “I can do it. You just need to put your finger like this then do this…” She was trying to encourage herself!

Step 2: Model Self-Talk

As parents we can model positive self-talk to our kids on a daily basis. It may seem silly at first, but it’s great for kids to hear your thought process. I know many pediatricians tell parents to talk about what they are doing because it’s great for language development. I’d encourage you to take it a step further. 

Modeling self-talk is more than just saying what you are doing. It is revealing your feelings in the process. 

Here is an example. I am making dinner and I am flustered because I don’t have a lot of time. I can model self-talk by saying “I am feeling flustered. I have so much to do! Breathe Lauren. It will be okay. Just take one step at a time. With a little bit of work I will get everything done.”

Kids can benefit from hearing our problem solving and expression of feelings. It feels silly, but trust me kids listen more than you may realize. And this is all part of building emotional intelligence. 

Step 3: Go Further With Thoughtful Questions

Encourage deeper thought in your kids by asking questions. For example, “This is a difficult puzzle. How did you put it together?” or “At first you were frustrated, but then you stuck with it and did it. How did you keep going even when it was hard?” Positive self-talk can even build self-esteem, read more about that here.

We don’t need to be touchy feely about every topic, but I believe emotional health and emotional intelligence is so important. Even with young children you can talk about feelings and see the skill of self-talk in kids slowly emerge.

Teach children coping skills when they are dealing with difficult situations. Talk to them about things they can do to calm themselves down and remind them they can’t always choose what happens to them, but they can choose how they react to it.

So what about you? Is this something your child struggles with? How do you help them face difficult situations?

We’d love to connect with you on in the comments or on Instagram to hear more! 

It's normal for kids to feel frustrated, but they don't have to stay that way forever. We can teach them tools like self-talk to help them encourage themselves and get through difficult tasks without melting down.

How do you teach self-talk to your kids?

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  1. I love this and think it’s so true! There’s a great series of little books called the empowerment series (you can get it on Amazon) that has 4 titles, “I know a lot,” “I am so brave,” “Now I am big!” and “I can do it myself.” My toddler now wanders around saying, “I know a LOT!” and I absolutely love it! 🙂

  2. Thank you. I am a grandparent and was feeling pretty clueless and hadn’t come across anything I thought was useful. This rocks. I will check out out your teaching coping skills post.

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