It is small consolation knowing that Big A, my two-year-old autistic toddler, is as frustrated by his lack of speech as we are, especially because he communicates this by screeching, kicking, and throwing whatever’s closest (or his little self upon the floor).
Big A doesn’t ask for a drink, he screams and throws his empty cup at us. When he’s frustrated at a toy he throws it, kicks, and screams. If we’re taking longer than he’d like to leave for the day he sits by the door and, you guessed it, screams.
He remains easily redirected, which I’m eternally thankful for, but hearing staccato screeches multiple times a day slowly grates ones soul. Screaming is not an effective long-term coping skill. Not for me in the adult world, or at him (though, man, is it tempting sometimes just to scream right back at him), nor for Big A.
I estimate we have six months before it’s a huge problem: Big A could create a steady habit of screaming when experiencing negative emotions.
Josh and I need to teach our oldest boy to replace the habit of screeching when frustrated with more constructive skills.
Kids have some specific triggers:
- negative peer interactions
- lack of control
- unexpected situations
Big A seems to particularly dislike: unexpected situations, lack of control, and challenges. Once we narrowed that down, Josh and I attempted to increase these provocations. The more Big A is exposed to these situations the stronger his coping response can get. It’s similar to exposing children to germs in an attempt to bolster their immune system. Increasing frustration tolerance leads to greater emotional health-for everyone involved.
Ms. Carrot Head, AKA, Satan
This is where Ms. Carrot Head comes in. For reasons I have yet to cipher, Big A loses his mind when pieces fall off that stupid thing. She’s as old as I am so pieces frequently slip awry. Ms. Kathy, his First Steps worker, left her to basically torture our son with. We’re actively trying to make him mad via the disembodiment of his new toy, the goal being he signs “help” rather than freak out. Then Josh and I are to step in, and help Big A put the pieces back into the carrot. We ask Big A if he needs help while signing “help,” then sign “help” hand-over-hand with him. Hand-over-hand again, we put the piece back into the carrot. When all is said and done, clapping and ecstatically exclaiming “yaaaaaaaaaay Big A did it yaaaaaaaaaay” commences. Repeat ad nauseum.
We come to grasp the different meanings behind our children’s cries as infants and that intuition continues into toddler-hood. I know when Big A is hungry as opposed to bored, in pain as opposed to frustrated. I’ve had to stop myself from fulfilling his wishes upon understanding, not picking the empty cup from the floor for a refill, making Big A sign “more” and “thank you.”We also have to correct the behavior when he handles his frustrations inappropriately. A constant refrain in our house is “that’s not how we deal with that.” As always with parenting, half the battle is within myself. As I am training Big A to increase his frustration tolerance I am training myself to increase mindfulness, to think before I act, to not automatically respond to the stimuli in my environment, like a ball bouncing around a pin-ball machine.
I am happy to report that it’s working. This week Big A put the piece on Ms. Carrot himself. Without screaming. He clapped for himself and signed “good job” afterwards. He’s stopped throwing his cup at us, signing “more” calmly instead. If he starts to kick, etc, he side-eyes us warily, waiting for, and then responding to, the “no.” Actively working to increase a toddler’s frustration tolerance sucks in the moment. You can’t see the point, minute-by-minute or day-by-day. Progress is incremental: week-by-week, if you’re lucky, but more likely month-by-month. The real test lies in continuing to choose the action that chips away at the goal; not the one that will momentarily stop the screaming.
Speaking or not, all toddlers struggle with frustration tolerance. Hell, all of us do. How do you help your kids? Yourself? Comment below! Share this article and snarkily tag someone who needs to work on their frustration tolerance (kidding).