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Teaching Frustration Tolerance
Closely linked to the importance of learning to delay gratification is a child's ability to tolerate frustration. One of the hallmarks of what we call emotional maturity is the ability not to be fazed by setbacks; to roll with the punches and persevere in the face of difficulties. Kids today can press a few keys on their computer and download music or order movie tickets. They can instant message half a dozen friends at the same time. So much comes to them so easily; they rarely need to wait for anything. So it's no wonder that kids whine when you're busy and they want your attention, rant when you make them wait for a ride to the mall, or throw a fit because you refuse to buy them the hip sneakers they don't need. It's up to us parents to teach them how to wait and not get frustrated, to develop skills such as frustration tolerance, and more generally, how to cope with stress.
I think it's paramount to talk to your kids about the importance of delaying gratification and frustration tolerance. If they're old enough, you may even want to give them the SATs/M&Ms example. It is also necessary to put these concepts into practice by putting firm rules and structures in place for children to follow - to insist, for example, that they clean their rooms or finish their homework before watching TV. As painful as it may be for a child to experience stress and frustration, and for us as parents to watch, this strategy will reinforce the fact that self-control is important and pushes kids to build up their frustration tolerance level.
Play the Delaying Gratification Game
Here's a way to put these strategies to the test. Start by making a list of three areas where your child can practice delaying gratification and building up her tolerance to frustration. Here are some common examples:
• Finishing homework without an extended break
• Being completely quiet while you are on the telephone
• Brushing teeth before hearing a bedtime story
• Cleaning dinner dishes before playing on the computer
• Finishing dinner before eating dessert
• Not eating breakfast until bed is made
• Not buying sneakers until they are on sale or they really need a new pair
Sit down and talk with your child about this exercise and what you expect of her. If your child is too young to understand, skip the talk and simply insist on the new behavior at appropriate times. If it helps, go ahead and make a game of the exercise. For example, use a timer and see how long can she work on homework without a TV break. If all goes well, the time will increase substantially by the end of the week, and you can reward her by cooking her favorite dinner or taking her to the movies.
Take the time to also examine your own level of self-control. Select three areas where you need to practice delayed gratification and frustration tolerance, such as waiting in long lines or sitting in a traffic jam. As you find yourself in these settings, be conscious of how patient you are or are not being. By developing your own self-control, you will be setting a better example for your children.
Move on to Lesson Four for a discussion on spoiled kids - why it's so awful and how you can avoid it!