Starfish Therapies

June 1, 2009

Frustration: A Catalyst to Learning

crying baby

As parents nobody wants to see their child get upset or fail, however have you ever stopped to consider that their frustration at not being able to accomplish what they want can be used to your advantage to motivate them to the next level or milestone.  I know, this sounds crazy but I found an article (I warn you its a rather dense research article) that talks about various reactions to frustration in infants.  Looking at the various reactions, and putting it with what I know about assisting kids with learning how to move, I think frustration can be a great motivator if applied correctly.  The first reaction became grouped as the ‘Criers’ marked by a crying and after a very short period a complete lack of interest in whatever was causing the frustration.  The second reaction became grouped as the ‘Winners’ who didn’t get upset and continued their interest until they succeeded.  The third reaction became grouped as the ‘Shifters’ who didn’t get upset either but whose interest declined and then finally moved onto something else.  Now mind you, these groupings were provided by the article.  Now I don’t know if these categories are valid or not, however I have seen kids react to frustration, in terms of accomplishing a task, all sorts of ways.  I believe there is a spectrum with one end being the kids that give up when it is difficult or they aren’t sure how to do it and decide, ‘nevermind, I didn’t really want that anyway,’  and the other end being those that will keep on going until they figure it out by whatever means.  I think the key is how we support the kids in getting what they want so they can be successful at the task.  Notice I didn’t say, give the kids what they want, rather support them in accomplishing what they are striving to do.  For example, if your child is trying to pull to standing and they are stuck, rather than placing them in standing give them a slight boost at their hips or stabilize their legs or hands so they can perform the task, just with a little help.  In my experience a few times of being helped to be successful, they will be more willing to try new things and they will figure it out quicker than if they were just lifted into standing.  Basically, your child’s frustration means they have the motivation, they just may not know how, it creates a perfect ‘Teaching Moment’ for you to help them achieve a new skill.  I know I applied this theory to movement, however I have seen it in relation to learning to use ‘Baby Signs‘, learning to drink from a sippy cup, performing a fine motor skill such as using a shape sorter or working switches on a toy.  The take-away from this is your child’s frustration doesn’t have to be a negative thing but rather it can be a powerful catalyst to their learning.



  1. “Basically, your child’s frustration means they have the motivation…”

    So well put. Sometimes it is difficult for a parent to find the tolerance, patience and plain and simple time to allow a child’s frustration to be what it is…thanks for the reminder!

    Comment by Deepa — June 2, 2009 @ 6:07 am | Reply

  2. […] show your child how something works everytime, the key is to provide just enough help so that the frustration doesn’t get […]

    Pingback by The Importance of Playing « Starfish Therapies — December 14, 2009 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  3. […] Frustration:  A Catalyst to Learning Leave a Comment […]

    Pingback by How to Encourage Gross Motor Development in Kids « Starfish Therapies — July 11, 2010 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

  4. […] they want to get up and so they look for any means to let their parents know this) which can be a key component to movement development.  Many times you will hear a parent say that they first rolled over or […]

    Pingback by Swaddling « Starfish Therapies — October 25, 2011 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

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