Starting preschool is such a milestone! Ben started this year and I couldn’t be more proud of him. (I could do with him not growing up so fast though!) Ben charged into preschool and has loved going. He is so happy when we drop him off and so happy when we pick him up. I would like to say everything is going perfectly, but sadly that isn’t quite the case. While Ben is excelling at academics and is having a ton of fun, he does get frustrated. He gets frustrated and sometimes acts out. Preschool brings around some major changes for little ones, so this isn’t unexpected. I think it is important to understand why these frustrations are taking place and to work on ways to deal with them. Here is how to help your frustrated preschooler.
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Why Do Preschoolers Get Frustrated?
All little ones get frustrated, right? Toddlers are notorious for getting frustrated and acting out with tantrums. For one and two-year-olds these are usually because they can’t get to something they want, they can’t do what they want, or they can’t do something on their own. I can see how this is frustrating. But what makes this easier to bear is, well, kids this age often have a very short attention span. Redirection and distraction work extremely well. Plus there is often a hug ready to soothe any hurt feelings. Tantrums and acting out is annoying, but it is generally expected at this age.
For preschoolers, it isn’t as easy. At three and four kids aren’t as easily distracted from what they want. They are starting to question authority a bit and spend more time asking ‘why?’ Yes, toddlers love the word no. But three and four-year-olds dig deeper and start to find loopholes and flaws in logic or consistency. This makes the quick fix less manageable. Preschoolers know the rules, but sometimes don’t care or feel that they shouldn’t always apply. They aren’t as easily mollified by a different toy or the promise of later.
Additionally, preschoolers are more aware of those around them. They have consistent peers now when they might not have had them before. They can see if someone is doing something they aren’t supposed to do. This is an age where they are starting to learn that you can’t control other people’s actions. And you can’t break the rules just because someone else does. That sounds like an easy enough idea, but it is hard in practice. Think of a time in your life when a coworker just drove you crazy. Ever have a time when you saw someone doing something they weren’t supposed to do, but they got away with it? Nothing major, but perhaps someone littered or parked illegally. Those times are so frustrating! I know I have wanted to just lose it on someone for something they did, but you usually just can’t do that. Now imagine being a preschooler and having those big feelings. It can’t be easy!
Finally, preschoolers are expected to start to regulate their feelings on their own. For a lot of them, this is the first time they are going through this without their parents. It is no wonder that they can get frustrated and not know what to do. Preschoolers are no longer toddlers, and they are expected to handle themselves a little more maturity. But they still need our help and guidance, along with our understanding when they have a hard time.
How Can We Help?
So how do we help them out? We are trying to teach Ben to learn to identify his feelings and to sit with them. This can be a fine line. We don’t want to teach him to bottle up his emotions. It is important to acknowledge them. There is nothing wrong with having a feeling. The issues come up based on how one acts on those feelings. Ben isn’t allowed to act out or tantrum because he is frustrated. So what can he do? We are practicing a few methods to diffuse his frustration.
- Take deep breaths. It’s a simple thing but it really does make you feel better! It is easy, always appropriate, and you can do it anywhere.
- Squeeze your hands and then shake them out. It is so helpful to have a physical outlet for your feelings, especially at such a young age. Squeezing his fists gives Ben that physical outlet, and then shaking out that stress helps relax the whole body.
- Walk away. Daniel Tiger tells us ‘If you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help.’ It really helps so much to step back from a frustrating situation. I am trying to teach Ben you can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do. If you are feeling overwhelmed, back away. It will help diffuse the situation.
These are the three main methods we are using. There are others, but sometimes having too many choices leaves you unsure of what to do. It is important to practice these techniques in calm situations. They need to become routine before your child is stressed. When I am around Ben I try to use every moment he is frustrated to practice these techniques as well. All this practice doesn’t mean that he won’t ever act out in frustration, but it gives him a better chance to make good choices.
Model These Techniques
One other thing is that I try to verbalize my feelings and thought process when I am frustrated. Ben needs to see that other people get frustrated too. He isn’t alone in this. But my hope is that I can model good coping techniques. Let me tell you, this is not always easy, even as an adult. It is helping me become more mindful of my actions and more mindful of the little humans who are watching me.
Resources To Help
I have found it helps Ben a lot to learn about his feelings and ways to handle them from sources other than me. (I mean, what does mom know anyway?) Some have worked better than others, but these are some that seem to do a decent job with Ben.
Daniel Tiger: Yep, this little tiger cub knows his feelings. Ben really relates to this show. There are episodes involving feeling angry, frustrated, jealous and more. There are also a whole bunch involving Daniel dealing with his friends and feelings while at preschool. Add to that some catchy songs that remind kids how to act and you have a winner. A real key here is to watch the episodes with your child and talk about them. Sing the songs too. (It’s hard not to.) My favorite part is that Daniel learns to name his feelings and that it is okay to have negative feelings. It isn’t realistic to think our children will be happy all the time, even if we want them to be. Kids need to learn it is okay to have these negative feelings, that they are normal, and that they will get past them.
We also read books about being mad and frustrated. Some of our favorites are:
It feels like our kids are growing up so fast when they start preschool. But we need to remember they are still learning so much. They face new situations and new challenges every day. They are still so young, and they are dealing with big feelings. We need to recognize this and give them the tools that will help them succeed. Being frustrated is normal and will happen all throughout life. Teaching coping techniques is a life skill our children can carry with them always.
Curious about emotional and behavioral development in kids? Check out these posts!