Helping Grandchildren with Frustration

By Bonnie Baker Cowan

While our grandchildren are perfect in every way, they do experience the same frustrations as less perfect children do.  We must all admit to witnessing the occasional tantrum from a toddler when grandpa doesn’t buy the mound of sticky candy floss at the spring fair or nana won’t give in to the pleas for the ballerina doll at the toy store.

Unfortunately, kids hit the wall of frustration as frequently and as painfully as adults do in their daily life. And sometimes children lash out at adults, even their perfect grandparents. My 11-year-old grandson has the best manners and sense of consideration for other people’s feelings of any child I know, but when I ask him to please start his homework after school when I am in charge, he sometimes lashes out at me. Of course, two minutes later, he says he’s sorry, but his level of frustration takes priority in the moment.

As grandparents, we are removed enough from the parenting situation that we want just the happy times, none of the internal conflict of a child’s mind and certainly none of the frustration. So we tend to give in to ease their frustration and keep the peace, rather than stand our ground. Cheryl of Moose Jaw agrees she gives in to her grandchildren’s whims. “I don’t see them every day, so when they come to visit on weekends for a sleepover, I admit I let them stay up much later than they should. Then they’re cranky next day when I take them home to their parents. And I go out of my way to make sure they’re content all the time they’re with me.”

For most of us, it’s just easier to let kids have their way. However, we are actually doing them a disservice by giving in. Dr. R.C. Dubuc of Ottawa says “it’s important that children learn to adapt to life’s disappointments and find the ability to move on.”

If we allow them their tears of frustration and disappointment, they learn to resolve their frustration, accept it and move on. “Tears actually release toxins,” says Dubuc, “and when frustration is left unresolved, it can lead to aggressive behavior.”

We can identify with a child’s frustration. We deal with aggravation every day, in small ways with situations such as gridlocked traffic or a toaster that just quits, as well as in more significant ways, such as a failed relationship or a lost job. Our ability to move on depends on our ability to adapt to a changed situation.

Children, like adults, don’t benefit from growing up thinking happiness is only possible when all needs are met and all life events unfold as they should.

So what do we do to help rather than aggravate the situation when they’re frustrated, or let’s be honest, having a meltdown? “It’s not the time to lecture or punish them,” says Dubuc. “Language is a function of left brain, but emotions reside in the right, so when children are highly charged emotionally, they cannot access the logical side of their brains.” Intervening and stopping their tears of frustration prevents them from learning to adapt.

Punishing them can lead to aggressive behavior too. What we do need to do is let them have their tears. We can calmly and gently acknowledge their frustration, but let them accept and adapt to their disappointment. Not only are we teaching them the life skills of adaptation, but also resourcefulness that will help them navigate through the rest of the disappointments life will no doubt offer them along the way.