Thinking clearly is a lot easier if we have a way to keep our emotions in check. Some researchers refer to this as “separation of affect.” This ability to detach from emotions caused by frustration is a skill that allows people to think through solutions to problems more objectively and rationally.
Putting emotions on the shelf is not necessarily easy for all children—or even all adults, for that matter. If this ability is lacking or inefficient, the response to frustrating situations tends to lean toward emotional reactions rather than thoughtful responses.
Some children who have a hard time with frustration tolerance can feel themselves getting hot and bothered, but they are so overwhelmed by their emotions that rational thought doesn’t kick in until after their emotions have quieted down. In fact, some children can even tell you what they need to do to deal successfully with frustrating situations and problems when they are in a calm state of mind. Yet in the moment of frustration, these same children become overwhelmed by the complex emotions connected to frustration. In the moment, thinking is lost.
Responding to a child who has trouble detaching from his emotions as if he is being intentionally noncompliant won’t be helpful. In fact, quite the opposite is true. A child who has trouble getting to her thinking brain when feeling frustrated is more apt to get calm more quickly when in the presence of a parent or caregiver who knows the child well, understands what is going on, and feels empowered to help the child get through the frustrating situation. In the cloud of frustration, kids will do better if they know the adults around them are helpers rather than critics. As you can imagine, if the inflexible child meets an inflexible adult, the result will be what some people refer to as a “meltdown.”
If you have a child who has a hard time with frustration tolerance, you may need to find some support for yourself. In the meantime, there is a greater chance that everyone will be able to think more clearly if parents and caregivers can stay calm, empathetic, and supportive.