Tag Archives: Building frustration tolerance in young children

How To Get Your Kid To Share (Hint: The Fast Food Rule Will Be Used)


Not a week goes by that a parent or nanny asks me how to get a young child, usually under 3, to share.  I get it; it is embarrassing when a toddler rips a toy away from another child, or has a death grip on a toy car while growling at their playdate friend.

Sharing isn’t something that comes naturally to most kids.  The rare child that hands over a toy when asked isn’t the average child.  You have to teach this behavior, and you have a couple of choices.  Only one is going to give you any peace:

  1. Threats:  Telling your child that if he doesn’t share that he will lose his valued toy.  This may work in the short run, but like spanking, you teach a child that violence or the threat of violence is the way to power.  We have too much of that already.
  2. Shame:  Telling a child that they are not nice people because they don’t want to share isn’t any better.  It doesn’t make it much kinder to say “You aren’t being nice right now”  because you still haven’t acknowledged the child’s feelings. Don’t we all carry around more shame than we can handle?  I know no one thinks they are shaming their child by saying this.  Stop now.  Make a better choice.
  3. Empathy followed by reality:  Using the Fast Food Rule, you tell the child what you think they are thinking “You don’t want to share; you want that car only for you” or an even simpler version “You say NO SHARE”.  When the child nods or in some physical or verbal way indicates that they understand you and agree that this is their opinion, you add sympathy to your voice and say something like “I am SO sorry, but it is XXX’s turn now.  You will get another turn later”.  Many times the child will hand over the car.  Sometimes you will have to take it, but they might not flip out.  Your empathy and their intelligence (if they are over 18 months old, they have had experience with sharing) will help them accept the reality.  Read Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule for more details on Dr. Harvey Karp’s excellent strategy.

Of course, if your child is exhausted, hungry, ill, or going through a change in routine, home, caregivers, new sibling, etc. all bets are off.  They are living on the edge, and thing could fall apart.  What do you do then?  You feed, give a nap, a hug, and remember that asking a stressed child to share isn’t going to go very well.  But you also use all Dr. Karp’s positive strategies, the ones he calls Time-Ins.  Things like Patience Stretching Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! and Gossiping Let Your Toddler Hear You Gossiping (About Him!).

The altruism that gives birth to sharing should not be expected in children under 2.  We ask them to follow our sharing rules, and have to help them grow to an age and a place in which they can comprehend what sharing is really about.  You may have to wait until 4 or 5 to see your child really understand how the other child is feeling and why sharing with them works better than being selfish.  At a very young age, it is enough that they know we understand where they are coming from and we will help them follow this important social rule.


Need to Support A Child’s Independence? Offer to Help Them!


irina-blok-192240-unsplashI know; it sounds like I am being sarcastic.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Instead of telling children to “Give it another try” or “I know you can do it”, offering help to a young child can have the paradoxical effect of eliciting more perseverance and attention.

It really isn’t all that complicated:  think of your own responses for a moment.  If you were trying to fill out your tax forms, and ran into difficulties, you might call an accountant for help.  If their response was “Just keep trying; I know you can figure it out!” you probably wouldn’t be excited to try again.  You might feel even more agitated.  I know what I would be thinking:”If I knew what to do, I wouldn’t have called you int he first place!”

If your accountant said “Let me take a look.  Oh, I underlined some of the important numbers.  You got stuck with line 32b, right?” you could see the issue in a new light, and be able to come to a solution without having to walk away or tear up the form.  Your accountant used their advanced knowledge to set you up for success.

We need to do the same thing for children.  Telling them we have faith in them, or insisting that they need to try again when they clearly don’t know how to alter their actions, is not kind or even very educational.  It leaves them feeling abandoned under stress.  Even if we know they can solve for X, they aren’t doing it now.

For the very youngest kids, I have a special solution.  You “wiggle it”.  Young children don’t know how we understand how to do so many things well.  When they get stuck opening containers or assembling objects, I offer to “wiggle it”.  By demonstrating that the container does indeed open, or that the bead will fit on the string, I am assuring them that they could be successful.  More importantly, I am demonstrating the correct grasp pattern and stabilization method.  And finally, I am rebooting their motor plan and their frustration level.  Just handing the object over to me reduces their agitation.  When children aren’t so frustrated, they can think and create better motor patterns.’

All this from a little “wiggling”.

To read more about building confidence and coordination, read For Kids With Sensory Issues and Low Tone, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance and Why Telling Your Child “It’s OK” Doesn’t Calm Him Down (And What To Do Instead)

Teach Yoga Breathing To Calm Toddler Frustration

Toddlers live lives filled with drama, but can they really learn to do deep breathing to calm down?  Yes, but you have to spin in so they can understand what to do and when to do it.  You will have to demonstrate it and show that you do it too.  Will you have to remind them to use it?  Probably.   It is still better than scooping a screaming toddler off the floor because he is frustrated and doesn’t have any skills to pull it together.

Dr. Harvey Karp calls it “magic” breathing.  For the younger kids, under 4, I use a more familiar and meaningful descriptor:  “birthday candle blowouts”.  By 2.5, most typical kids and a lot of kids with ASD and other developmental issues are very familiar with the birthday cake experience.  The songs, the candles and the cake make a real impression at an early age.  It is a positive experience for most kids, so that already sends their little minds on a positive path.  You know how meditation or hypnosis techniques ask you to go to your “happy place?”  Well, kids love, love, love birthdays.

Show them how to blow out candles by taking a big breath and pursing their lips to blow out a pretend candle.  If they do an overbite on their lower lip and it comes out as “f-f-f-f-f” then repeat your demo.  I have had success telling kids to say “Who?” and then blow.  Truth is, I think the breath part works decently even with a poorly controlled blow, but as an OT, I go for the best motor skill I can elicit.  It’s a habit.

Once they have blown, they can sing the song with you if they want, but that is just a fun addition.  They may be ready to get back to whatever they were doing, just in a calmer way.

This will not work as well when your child has fallen into the deeper holes of misery.  Illness, exhaustion and hunger will often require more than a few deep breaths.  They may need a hug, a snack, some alone time, etc.  That’s OK.  Toddlers can’t manage nearly as well under those harsher conditions.  Dealing with little issues throughout the day with yoga breathing is still worthwhile.

Frustration is often like a big bucket.  If you don’t empty out the water during the day and just allow it to fill up, one more tiny drop will cause it to overflow and make a mess.  Teach your child to use birthday candle blowouts and use Dr. Karp’s patience stretching (see my post Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today from November 2015), and that frustration bucket isn’t brimming over at the end of the day.