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Low Frustration Tolerance: 10 Tips To Prevent Tantrums & Build Resilience

What is low frustration toleranceta

Having a low frustration tolerance (LFT) is an inability to regulate one’s emotions when confronted with adversity, loss of control, or blocked goals. Children with low tolerance for uncomfortable feelings usually display irritability, emotional outbursts, or temper tantrums when things go wrong. 

These children often lack emotional regulation.

Due to their emotional dysregulation, they are usually misunderstood as strong-willed, spoiled, or entitled.

The result is that many of them are not given the help they need to develop proper coping and regulating skills​1​.

Having high frustration-tolerance means the child’s ability to withstand the discomfort of negative emotions well.

Children with high frustration tolerance usually have healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with unpleasant feelings.

girl screams covering her ears


Frustration is a complex emotional reaction. It is caused by the interaction of multiple brain circuits involved in emotional regulation.

Scientists find that some children with low frustration-tolerance have deficits within these neural circuits​2​.

Some babies are frustrated more easily than others due to their innate temperament.

Easily frustrated infants tend to be less attentive and more active.

They use less effective self-regulation strategies to regulate their emotional reactivity​3​.

Children learn how to self-regulate through co-regulating with their parents during their early childhood.

A nurturing parent can provide comfort and support to children who are experiencing frustrating or frightening events.

Toddlers get frustrated easily.

But warm, sensitive parenting is strongly associated with toddler emotion regulation.

Punitive and harsh parenting, however, can worsen a child’s aggression and emotional dysregulation​4​.

Although the presence of low frustration tolerance does not necessarily result from poor parenting, ineffective parenting can make it worse.

frustrated girl throws something to break the window


Infants and children who are easily frustrated show the following signs:

  • Physical signs of frustration include banging, kicking, hostile anger, or other frustration-focused behaviors.
  • Tantrums that are not developmentally appropriate.
  • Appear more fussy.
  • Poor self-soothers.
  • Inflexible, intolerant to change or novelty​3​.
  • Take fewer negative emotions or stressful events to trigger more crying​5​.
  • Unable to handle criticism, failure, and pressure well.
  • Explosive temper accompanied by aggressive, antisocial, and delinquent behavior.
  • May have irrational beliefs such as catastrophization, perfectionism, blame-proneness, helplessness, etc​6​.
A pouting little girl.


These children tend to have the following negative outcomes:

  • Display oppositional defiant disorder symptoms.
  • Poor school performance.
  • Fewer social skills​7​.
  • More externalizing behavior problems.
  • Less support from parents and peers.
  • More likely to have mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders​8​.
boy frustrated covering face

How to help a child with low frustration tolerance

Tolerate your easily frustrated child

When a child has a full-fledged meltdown because of little things, it is hard for grownups to have empathy.

We may even believe that their defiant behavior is intentional.s

However, it is important that we stay calm and show them how we work through our own frustration.

Emotion regulation is not something we are born with.

Children learn to build tolerance for frustration through observing adults regulate theirs​9​.

We must show them how to do it in real life, not just talk about it.

Use warm and responsive parenting

A warm and responsive parenting style enables children to develop secure attachments to their parents. It can help a frustrated kid learn how to regulate their emotions.

Warmth in parenting is also associated with healthy brain development in children and adolescents​10​.

Attune to their frustration

In order for children to learn emotional regulation, they must experience it for themselves.

The problem is children are not born with self-regulation, so we must help them get this experience first​11​.

Emotional attunement is one of the fastest and most effective ways to help frustrated children regulate their nervous systems​12,13​.

Attunement means expressing the same emotions as the child through words, facial expressions, and body language, but in a controlled way so that the child can see you understand them​14​.

For example, you can frown and say in a slightly stressed tone, “You’re so frustrated because you can’t open the box.”

This empathetic gesture is a co-regulation process that is essential in building frustration tolerance in children​15​.

Prepare & practice for potential frustration

Being disappointed can be a very frustrating experience. It’s even more frustrating when you don’t expect it.

Some children with very low frustration tolerance may have a difficult time even dealing with the thought of being disappointed.

It’s much better to address it ahead of time than if the real thing hits them unexpectedly.

A child who cannot control or tolerate their rapidly escalating frustration cannot think rationally about their actions.

They may have no idea how to cope at the moment.

If you warn your child about something that may frustrate them and practice dealing with it, they may be better able to control themselves in the heat of the moment.

This won’t work overnight, however.

Building those regulating neural circuits in your child’s brain takes a lot of practice. Keep practicing with them and supporting their learning.

girl holds a help sign

Teach problem-solving skills

Being unable to achieve your goals, coupled with a feeling of helplessness, leads to frustration.

A proactive approach to address the root causes of distress may reduce frustration for children​16​.

Help them find different ways to create a different outcome despite the frustrating situation.

Give them examples of times when you or others have similar struggles and overcome them.

Frustration tolerance skills such as negotiation can help them eliminate unresolved conflicts.

Look out for signs of hunger or tiredness

Some children may be more prone to get frustrated around dinner time due to hunger. 

According to a study, children who are given sugar when given challenging tasks are less likely to become frustrated​17​.

Emotional coaching

To prevent future meltdowns in older children, coach your child in frustration management.

Talk to them about their emotions when they are calm.

Let them talk about their feelings and listen carefully.

Discussing emotions with children rather than dismissing them can help them develop self-regulation​18​.

Emotion coaching from parents teaches children to recognize their emotions and provides them with coping strategies for stressful situations.

Teach coping skills

Stress can be relieved instantly by coping skills.

They include deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation​19​, and reappraising negative thoughts for low-tolerance children.

crying toddler with frustrated parents in background

Parenting training

Research shows that combining problem-solving skills training for children with parent management training yields significantly better results in helping children manage their frustration​20​.

Parent management training focuses on child-rearing practices, parent-child interactions, and contingencies that can support behavioral change in easily frustrated children.

Psychotherapy & medical help

Poor distress tolerance for kids is a common symptom for those with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)​1​ or Autism Spectrum Disorder​21​.

Some of them may experience extreme emotions in difficult situations.

To improve their emotional regulation skills, such children may require medical intervention.

If the impairment in children is significantly affecting their quality of life or that of their families, parents may seek the help of medical and mental health professionals.

An angry girl raising her arms and frowning at her concerned doctor.


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Updated on September 28th, 2023 by Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *