How to Calm Your Easily Frustrated Child – Part 1

easily frustrated childA few years ago, I wrote an article about helping kids with homework when they become easily frustrated, dramatic, or are in the midst of a meltdown.  Since then, it’s become our website’s most viewed article both locally in the DC area and nationally.  Why?  Because frustration over homework is incredibly common not just with young children, but even with older students.

The good news is that we, as parents, can make a positive difference to reduce frustration and improve homework completion.  And the even better news is that I have some new tips for you that can make it happen.

In the first part of this 4-part series, we’ll address one of the most important strategies a parent can have in his or her toolkit – good communication.  Over the years, I’ve come to realize that a positive dialogue between parent and child makes all the difference.

Allow Your Child to Be Heard

Seeing our children struggle academically makes us as parents feel uncomfortable, so it’s our first reaction to stop the pain.  Does this sound familiar?

Child: I’m just no good at math!

Parent: Oh yes you are sweetie.  Come on, you can do this!

Child: No, I can’t and I suck at math!  Why do I have to know this dumb stuff anyway?

Parent: Listen up Jimmy, math is a really important subject to your future. If you can’t learn to reduce fractions, you’ll be lost when you do more complicated things later on.

Child:  Whatever. (Puts head down on desk.)


What happened here?  How did such a well-intentioned discussion go so wrong?  The reason is that when kids don’t feel heard, they become argumentative or they withdrawal completely.  Such was the case with Jimmy when he was told how to feel.  When parents practice empathy, students are far more likely to stay focused and less likely to meltdown.  Instead of negating a child’s feelings, its far better to actively listen to what they say, empathize with their feelings (you don’t have to agree!), and state the emotion. I call this the LESS is MORE strategy.

Here’s how the LESS is MORE strategy works:

L – Listen (make eye contact, nod head)

E – Empathize (Oh, I see how you feel)

S – State the Feeling (I can tell you’re angry with your teacher)

S – Sometimes Narrow

Let’s rewind and play back that scenario using the LESS is MORE strategy.

Child: I’m just no good at math!

Parent: Oh, I see (nodding). I can tell you’re frustrated and I can see why.  This is tough material.

Child: I am!  This is hard!

Parent: Which problem is giving you a hard time?

Child:  It’s number nine. 

Parent:  Okay, let’s see if we can tackle number nine together.

In this case, the parent made what seemed like a huge problem (hating math) into something much more approachable – number nine.  Narrowing the problem to a large issue into a smaller one redirects kids and helps them to stay focused.

In this example, the student remained on task (instead of putting his head down on the table) mainly because he felt heard. When kids feel understood, they are less likely to engage in an argument. In addition, the less a parent says the better.