Google+ Authentic Parenting: The Importance of Allowing Your Child to be Frustrated

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Importance of Allowing Your Child to be Frustrated

I was listening to the audiobook for "Hold on To Your Kids" by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté and
heard him speak of frustration. Specifically the importance of not intervening in the frustration-acceptance cycle. A couple things clicked in my head. Things we're collectively doing wrong as a society and of which I am personally guilty.

Frustration is the reaction of mankind to reaching limits or boundaries (which Neufeld calls 'futility'), wether spiritual, intellectual or physical. In order to work through the frustration, the brain goes through a set of steps to reach acceptance of the limit: frustration - anger - sadness - acceptance

Often, when we expose our kids to a limit and face their - sometimes heartbreaking - sadness, we are prone to 'give in'. We feel like we are making them cry, we feel incapacitated and fear we've done something wrong. Thus, disallowing them to reach the stage of acceptance, when all the while they were so close.
Whereas, when a child has reached that acceptance, it is integrated. The limit becomes part of his frame.

A little example: My son saw the box of cookies we had received for his birthday and wanted one. I gave one, telling him he could have just the one, since it's not good for his teeth (I'm not one for food restrictions, but he does have pretty bad teeth, read here what we're doing about that). He happily toddled away with the cookie and munched on it for a couple of minutes. Low and behold, when the cookie was done, he came back to the kitchen?

"Cookie? One?"

No, I said, you already had the one.

His face turned to anger: "Cookie!" he said in a persistent tone.

I told him no.
He then fell to the ground and cried, stomping his feet and covering his cute little face.

"If he feels that strongly about the cookie," I thought to myself, "why don't I let him have one? It's pretty random to give him just the one." So I give in, and give the cookie.

Now one cookie isn't the end of the world. But it is important as a parent to know that we cannot save our children from frustration, and know, that frustration is an essential part of growth.

A little sidenote: Obviously, some limits can be reconsidered. Sometimes we set limits for our children without even knowing why, and it is ok to reevaluate. However, if we sense in ourselves that this is one we should stick to, we shouldn't be persuaded by their tears of grief. Instead, we should nurture those tears, and guide our children through. We will come out stronger - both the parent and the child.

Having been parented through fear, we often shy away from the hard stuff, fearing ourselves to do to our children what has been done to us. But sadness and frustration, the sense of futility, they are part of life, they are what inspires growth.


I have learned so much from "Hold on to Your Kids" (you can expect some more post sprouting from me listening to this book) and can certainly recommend this book to every parent, no matter how young or old the child. The audiobook (really handy because you can do other things while listening!!) is now part of The Essential Parenting Collection, organised by my affiliate partner Mindful Nurturing. You can get the full collection at $49.97, a fraction of the full retail value of over $750.

Alternatively, you can get the Child Development module, where you find 5 other eProducts alongside the audiobook of "Hold on to Your Kids" for only $19.97.

Check out the full collection here and make your choice.

 photo credit: rachel sian via photopin cc



  1. This is so true! I have been having this same sort of moment with my children lately. My youngest (4 months) is learning about rolling over. He has mastered getting to his belly, and getting his arm stuck beneath him. My 3 older children feel like I am just being so cruel to him by not immediately rolling him back to his back, so he can play some more. However, having been through this several times, I have learned that he is simply frustrated because he wants to learn to roll over and to roll back to his back when he is done. It is hard for all of us to listen to him crying, but his cry is of frustration, not pain or need. Rolling him to his back does not make him not frustrated. It leaves him JUST as frustrated, if not more so! Leaving him actually allows him to master the skill so the frustration can end.

    1. so true! yet with babies I learned early on that it's good to allow them to struggle a little, yet now that my son is more vocal about it, I find myself having a much harder time, feeling like I'm the reason why he's upset

  2. Thank you for this. I struggle with knowing the right balance between giving my child the boundaries he needs and giving him the nurturing he needs.


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