What To Do If Your Child Quits When The Going Gets Tough


Does your child....

  • Give up quickly when faced with a difficult task.
  • Lash out if something does not go as they hoped or planned.
  • Avoid tough tasks.
  • Refuse to complete tasks, often insisting that they are boring.
  • Become angry when asked to wait or to take turns.
  • Quit when they can’t do something perfectly on the first attempt.


Rather than a behavior problem, lack of motivation or an anger issue, your child may be experiencing low frustration tolerance.


Frustration tolerance is defined as the ability to delay gratification, or to persevere despite encountering obstacles. It is essential for working with others and maximizing achievement.  Without the ability to tolerate frustration your child is likely to lose it when faced with everyday tasks like tying shoes, memorizing spelling words, building with Legos, or coping with disappointments, a friend who has a different plan, or setbacks.  Fortunately, frustration tolerance is a skill that can be taught!

You can strengthen your child’s frustration tolerance by taking these steps:

Protect sleep and serve mini meals every 2.5 -3 hours throughout the day. When tired or hungry it’s nearly impossible to tolerate frustration!

 Name it. When you first see, hear, or sense your child is becoming upset, step in quickly before they go over the edge. Say to them, “I hear your voice getting louder, it makes me wonder if that’s frustrating you.” Or “That’s not working the way you planned. That’s frustrating.” To manage an emotion, we must be able to name it.

Change the self-talk.  “I’m a learner. Learning takes time.” “Practice makes better.”  “I’m a problem solver. I can figure this out.” “Learning new skills takes time.” Research demonstrates that people who regularly use encouraging self-talk are more likely to perform better and maintain their stamina even when tasks are difficult. Dump the negative, disheartening self-talk that berates one for being stupid, deficient, or lacking in some way. It robs your child of energy and makes difficult tasks even more challenging.

Teach skills to calm. A key to tolerating frustration is the ability to calm the arousal system even when something is upsetting. Teach and practice with your child how to take deep breaths, ask for help, step away to get a drink of water, take a break, go outside, and other calming strategies. When you child does not know how to calm themselves, they become a victim of their frustration.

Do Scaffold learning.  Scaffolding is supportive practice that breaks difficult tasks down into teeny tiny steps that are easier to accomplish. When your child is attempting a challenging task, or trying something new, be available. Help them find ways to break the task into more manageable steps. If there are ten spelling words to learn. Start by practicing how many you think they can be successful completing.

Create 3 ten-minute practice sessions instead of one 30-minute period. When math problems are difficult, begin with the easiest one and build from there.

Celebrate effort! Rather than praising completion, winning or being “smart,” emphasize effort, persistence, and patience. Gradually, you will see your child’s ability to manage frustration improve as they realize they are a hard-working learner who can figure this out!

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