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Improving Frustration Tolerance in Students

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Improving frustration tolerance in students can solve a lot of a teacher’s problems. Why? Because if your students have a low frustration tolerance, it’s harder for them to try new activities and grow as students. If you, as a special education teacher, are having a hard time getting your kiddos to try new things, it might be that you need to work on their frustration tolerance.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably wondering why you have to improve frustration tolerance. It sounds tedious and painful.

It involves the word frustration, and who wants to be frustrated? 

Well, you’ll want to improve your students’ frustration tolerance because it will serve them not only in school but in life as well.

As unfun as frustration tolerance might be, it’s one of those life skills or emotional coping skills our kiddos will just need to grow up to be functional humans.

So let’s put on our big teacher pants and learn about how to do it! 

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Before learning about improving frustration tolerance in students, let’s pause and cover the basics. What even is frustration tolerance?

Frustration tolerance is someone’s ability to do something that frustrates them without giving up. 

It’s very similar to Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. 

Click here to read that book if you haven’t yet for some reason.

People can have high or low frustration tolerance, depending on the activity. 

For instance, I have a high frustration tolerance when it comes to dancing. Whenever I’m learning a new style or step, I don’t give up if it’s hard. I can tolerate a higher level of frustration while I’m learning.

However, I have a low frustration tolerance for running. I’m bad at running, I hate running, and I don’t get a lot out of it. Hence if you make me run, I’ll be whining about it in seconds.

So, aside from generally remembering that frustration tolerance varies from person to person, someone’s frustration tolerance might also vary depending on their actions.

So let’s shift away for a moment from my riveting stories about what I’m like as a dancer versus a runner. (They’re fascinating, I know, but not why you came here.)

Instead, let’s imagine a student with dysgraphia.

Now, one of the hard things about dysgraphia is that it makes the physical act of writing harder. It can be hard for kiddos with this learning disability to write good content when they focus on their handwriting.

There are a lot of solutions to that, but my long-term strategy is always to make sure to introduce typing a little earlier to those kiddos. 

When I first started doing this, I questioned myself like you wouldn’t believe. All my kiddos whined and complained that I wondered if I was asking too much of their fine motor skills. 

However, after consulting with some lovely OTs, they told me that physically there were no reasons for the kids to be unable to type. It was just new and challenging. 

They had a low frustration tolerance. 

Now, if I hadn’t worked them to get through that, they would never have learned to type, which opened up whole new avenues for them to help them function better with their disability. 

Our kids need to improve their frustration tolerance because if they don’t, they’re at risk of giving up and never learning new skills. 

A low frustration tolerance keeps you from sticking with new things and growing skills and knowledge. 

Yes, it’s uncomfortable, and you can expect a lot of whining, complaining, or avoidant behavior in the beginning, but the end results will be so worth it! 

This is one of those foundational experiences you want your students to have so they can learn they are capable of overcoming obstacles with practice and hard work.

The main way to improve frustration tolerance in students is not something you will want to hear.

You know that thing that your kiddos hate doing, the one they whine and complain about and try to get out of? 

Yeah, you have to make them do that.

I know you’re thinking, “Oh come on, Sarah, if it was that simple do you think I’d be here googling this?” 

I know, and you’re right. It’s simple but also not simple. 

You have to make them do the thing, but you must be strategic about it.

The first way I always recommend going is to not start with the hard thing immediately but to build up to it. 

For example, at my school, there’s a math program they recommend we use daily to work on fact fluency. My kids hate it because they’re not fluent in their facts yet. 

But then they don’t do it, so they don’t practice their facts, which means they don’t get better, and we wind up in a never-ending cycle. 

So to break it, I work on fact fluency outside of the program for a few minutes a day. 

We start math class with a multiplication drill.

They were still frustrated during that time, but with my support. That way, they know I’m there for them, even though they have to do the activity independently. 

  1. Set a timer (stop the frustrating thing when it goes off and repeat the next day, slowly increase the time.)
  2. Have your kids chart their growth themselves
  3. Offer rewards when the frustrating thing is done.
  4. Give more points or incentives to choosing the frustrating thing
  5. Celebrate all progress
  6. Compare students to themselves, not other people

Of course, you only have to be strategic at first. After a while, you’ll see your kiddos begin to grow and get better. As they improve, their frustration levels will decrease. 

On top of that, make sure to keep this learning experience is on their minds and remind them of it the next time they run into something they have a low frustration tolerance for. 

You can bet your butt that my kiddos who learned to type like little masters were reminded of how good they are at typing now after putting in that work whenever they ran into another obstacle in learning and life.

Anytime someone starts something new, it will be frustrating on some level. Human beings don’t like to be bad at things. However, for us to grow and learn, we have to stick with it anyway.

That is why it’s important we work on improving frustration tolerance in students. It’s a life skill and something they’ll take with them well beyond the classroom. 

I recommend starting small, picking one of the strategies I went over or something else that works for you, and trying it out. 

Also, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and let me know what you picked! I so want to hear about it! 

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