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Bye Bye Pesky Fly

The Book Brigade talks to educational counselor Lysa Mullady.

Used with permission of author Lysa Mullady.
Source: Used with permission of author Lysa Mullady.

Parents struggle to deal with some of the most annoying toddler traits, like whining and complaining. Most often, they emanate from a sense of frustration. Those moments are opportunities for parents to teach their kids problem solving skills. Today’s world does little to encourage frustration tolerance; parents need all the help they can get in teaching their young ones how to handle such unwanted emotions.

What inspired you to write a book essentially on frustration tolerance for very young children?

Coping with irritation is a day-to-day occurrence for all of us. Kids are quick to whine and complain, wanting adults to make what bothers them go away. My goal in writing this book was to empower even the youngest among us to face frustration in a positive way. How Pig deals with Pesky Fly teaches children how to be proactive when they are feeling aggravated. We can’t take away the things in the world that annoy us. If you want to feel peaceful inside, you have to learn how to handle unwanted emotions.

Is there evidence that frustration tolerance is a growing problem among children?

As an elementary school counselor for 28 years, I have first-hand experience of the ever-increasing mandates we put upon our children. Some are brilliantly rising above and beyond our expectations. Many, are overwhelmed. Young children, by normal developmental standards, have difficulty understanding and expressing their emotions. This has resulted in more children struggling with frustration tolerance.

Why did you choose the situation of a fly to represent annoyance? Can very young children generalize from that example?

I had a particular concern for a young boy who would swing from feeling joy to feeling frustration, very quickly. He was bothered by many different external forces. I was trying to think of a creative way to help him understand that the things happening on the outside affect how we feel on the inside. I was jogging, enjoying the sunshine, in search of inspiration. Literally, a fly started buzzing around my face. A flashbulb went off. A fly is a perfect symbol for anything annoying. The idea is simple and tangible enough for even the youngest to understand.

What do children need to know about annoyance?

Being annoyed is part of life. Like the sky is blue and the grass is green, it is something we cannot change. Because we live and work together, it is normal to feel bothered by what someone else says or does. It’s our job to deal with these feelings and our responsibility to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt ourselves or others.

What do adults in children’s lives need to know about it?

Children are very capable of developing coping strategies. In order to do this, kids need to be guided though their emotions. Our job is to stay calm and be the voice of reason, having faith that the unpleasant feeling will pass. See your child’s frustration as an opportunity to practice problem solving skills, not as an unwanted event. In doing so, you will raise a resilient child.

At what age is it appropriate to teach kids to tolerate frustration? Is there research on this topic?

According to Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, the three-year-old child is capable of learning new concepts and transferring these lessons to real life. At this time, toddlers are also experiencing the world more independently. As they interact with others, they learn the basics of getting along: We don’t hit, we don’t bite, we don’t run away, we use words to talk things out in a calm voice. These principles create a foundation for frustration tolerance.

What kind of later problems grow out of a lack of frustration tolerance?

Frustration tolerance is the ability to deal with challenges. If a person does not develop this skill, they will be unable to navigate through the stress of everyday living. Stress creates anxiety. Anxiety can be paralyzing.

What kinds of experiences do you find most influence kids’ ability to tolerate frustration?

Frustration tolerance is a problem-solving skill. Kids learn through observation and practice. Teach coping strategies when kids are calm and relaxed. Model deep breathing, positive communication skills, and how to identify feelings. By rehearsing these actions, kids will be better equipped to deal with their negative emotions.

How should adults go about raising the ability of kids to cope with annoyances?

Frustration tolerance can be taught as a step-by-step process. When kids become irritated, help them to identify the feeling. Next, guide them to express that feeling in a calm manner by using “I feel __ because ___” statements. Then, have a conversation about how the child can deal with the unwanted emotion. Finally, use the strategy until the frustration passes. Children need to have an adult guide them through these steps in order to learn how to tolerate frustration. It is the relationship with a trusted adult that most influences a child’s ability to learn how to deal with aggravation.

If you had one piece of advice for contemporary parents, what would it be?

Too many parents focus on the source of their child’s unhappiness. We safeguard our children from harm, but it is illogical to imagine that you can create a world where your child never gets hurt. People are mean, we don’t always get what we want, we all fall down. What causes the unwanted feelings is not as important as how you deal with it. Let your child live through their frustration. Know that they will get through it and believe they will be stronger because of it. Emphasize the action, not the cause.

What one thing would you most want to tell younger people?

All feelings are okay. No one is happy all the time. There will be things that make you feel sad and mad. You have to decide what to do about your feelings. You can choose to stay hurt, or you can choose to feel good again. When someone bothers you, you may want to bother them back. It is never okay to be mean when you are trying to feel better. That only makes the problem worse. The best thing you can do to feel better is to talk it out with someone you trust. Always be on the lookout for good people who want to help you be the best you you can be.

About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses.

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Bye Bye Pesky Fly

Used with permission of author Lysa Mullady.
Source: Used with permission of author Lysa Mullady.