A Child’s Frustration

Q: My 11-year-old son has autism. Recently, he told me that he should not live because he will never be able to achieve his dreams, that he will not be able to have a wife and children because he can’t have friends and he has problem to follow simple rules. He’s also said that he should not belong in this world because he can’t stop doing noise with his mouth even if he tries. He can’t stop putting his fingers in his nose, and everybody finds him disgusting. He can’t stop reading at night when it’s forbidden. He doesn’t want to do chores because it’s boring and he finds it really difficult. He said his sister is always on his back and she is not playing as the rules (he’s right).

In the last year he has changed and become more frustrated. He reacts to everything like it’s the end of the world, where he used to smile and laugh. A lot of people intimidate him at school. Tonight it crushed my heart. Any suggestions?

A: It’s always difficult when a child expresses his fears and anxieties in such a way—kids feel things so keenly and they don’t have the adult experience to know that what’s their reality now doesn’t have to be their reality tomorrow or the next day or the next month, etc. And they lack the skill set to enact change, especially bad habits.

At 11, your son is probably starting to experience puberty in some ways, so his emotions are likely to be all over the map, which means he’s not able to moderate his feelings. Everything’s a crisis!

How can you help as a mom? Along with the following suggestions, I’d also recommend talking with an autism specialist to see what you can do to help him navigate this time as his body starts to change and grow more.

  1. Ask him to identify which habit he wants to change the most, then help him devise a plan to conquer it. Don’t offer suggestions, rather guide him into finding solutions that he can work on.
  2. Share some of your own struggles to change something about yourself—how you tried and failed and keep trying.
  3. Read stories or books about people who overcame hard things by perseverance, etc. Watch movies on the same theme. The more you expose him to other stories of perseverance, the more he’ll absorb that storyline for himself.
  4. Stop trying to talk him out of feeling like he can’t have his dreams. Instead, ask him what he wants to work on to achieve those dreams—show him how to break things into small, tiny steps. He wants to follow simple rules. How does that start? By breaking those rules into steps.
  5. Also tell him that following through with his chores will help him in other areas, like his conquering his bad habits. Show him more clearly the line between cause (do your chores even though their boring) and effect (he develops a stronger ability to keep with something).
  6. Remind him that Rome wasn’t built in a day—that things take time. That he’s been doing these bad habits for a long time, so stopping will take time too.
  7. Above all, remind him in both words and deeds that he’s loved and that he’s exactly who God made him to be, warts and all. If you’re a believer, then reading Bible stories of heroes who fell but God still used them can be of great comfort to kids.

Frustration With Frustration

Q: My 9-year-old son struggles with frustration and has for years. He’ll break objects, yell or become disrespectful when he reaches his breaking point. He is otherwise a typical loving boy. What can you recommend my husband and I can do to tackle this issue?

A: All kids deal with some level of frustration—as do all adults. But the biggest difference between adults and kids is that we grownups have learned how to control our frustrations (for the most part), while kids generally have not.

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The key is to helping him is to avoid his getting to a breaking point. Some things that work—and are easy for kids to do—include breathing exercises, counting to 10, putting his head down on his desk at school, going to a “take a break” corner at home or school, etc. These are ways a child can learn to calm himself down. One of my daughters struggles with frustration–she would often erupt like a volcano and spew lava over all who got in her path. Very messy and not pretty to watch.

So we started talking about her frustration when she wasn’t frustrated. We practiced together some of the calming methods mentioned above. I encouraged her to walk away from situations when she felt herself becoming more frustrated. We talked to her teachers about allowing her to put her head down at her desk for a few minutes to regain composure or go to the take a break corner each of the classrooms have for just that purpose. Those things did help, but it took some time for her to remember to use the calming methods. She still erupts but it’s much less now and she’s much happier and not as down on herself as she was before when frustration got the better of her.

When you see your son start to get frustrated, tell him to take deep breaths. Count to ten. Run a lap around the outside of the house or jump on a mini-trampoline. He’ll need your help in redirection for a bit as he learns when he should “take a break” to avoid the blow ups.

Remember, he’s probably as frustrated with himself for blowing up as you are from seeing his struggles. These tips can help him see that there is a way to break the cycle.