The Benefits of Frustration (For Kids and Everyone)

Frustration- the true mother of invention

I was having a discussion the other day with someone about unschooling my kids, and how I try not to push them to learn things that they aren't interested in learning yet (yet being the key word), but rather, wait until they show an interest in learning that subject, and then we tend to learn it rather intensely and quickly.
This person, not a big fan of unschooling, was especially concerned about this approach when it comes to learning our local language. That actually is a subject that I do push to some extent and don't completely unschool it, but even that, I try not to make a fight about it or really pressurize my kids with it, because when I do, and especially when others try to push it (said person decides to school my kids in the local language every time they see them), my kids get very annoyed and it makes them disinterested in learning it, and very upset. And then, instead of my being able to teach them the language at a moderate pace, they don't want to learn it at all.
But I am seeing that they are picking up the language, and I see just how much their grasp has improved in the last year and a half or two since we started working on it, and I realize that it'll take time for them to become fully fluent, but they'll get there.
This concerned person was saying that right now they need the local language, to be able to function in society, to make friends, to be able to interact with people at the grocery store and playground, and if they don't speak the local language, they'd become frustrated.
My answer- becoming frustrated that they don't speak the language well enough is a good thing, not the bad thing this person was making it out to be.

And that, readers, is the point of this post.

Not every seemingly negative circumstance actually is negative. Sometimes they are actually beneficial.

I think frustration is a terrific thing, and very beneficial in certain circumstances.

People all the time talk about necessity is the mother of invention, but I think it actually would be more apt if people said "Frustration is the mother of invention".

There are two (possibly three) types of frustration in the world.

I'm pro one type specifically.

One is frustration because you're in a bad situation and you're incapable of doing anything to improve it, like when you're getting bullied by kids in school, or having otherwise huge, insurmountable problems that you are stuck in. I do not encourage that type of frustration at all, and don't think anyone should. I don't think it makes you stronger- I think often it just breaks you.

Then another type of frustration is when someone intentionally decides to frustrate someone else, "for a purpose", and I don't support that either (generally).

The third type of frustration is naturally occurring frustrating situations which you can do something about, if you're frustrated enough about it to do something. That is a wonderful thing, because this frustration often is followed by amazing results, assuming you have support to deal with that frustration.

Frustration inspires motivation.

Lets give some examples.
You're frustrated by the mess in your house. Result? You clean it up. Better result? You try to figure out a solution to the problem of the constant mess, and creatively figure out a method to stop the mess from building up in the first place, and end up with a house that regularly stays more clean than it used to.

You're frustrated that there is too much litter in your area, so you start a local campaign to teach people the importance of keeping the place cleaned and not littering.

You're frustrated that there is nothing that does x when you want x, so you figure out and invent something that does x, whether it is Thomas Edison with the light bulb, Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, or people who invented smart phones or those inventing useful apps, etc. Most inventions were made by people who were frustrated with the current state of things, and were looking for a solution.

And then there's simply the frustration when you want to know something, but you don't. Like when my kids go somewhere and get frustrated that they don't understand something in the local language.
Which then motivates them to want to learn it, and then we spend more time focusing more intensely on their grasp of the local language and they improve in leaps and bounds.

The same goes for any subject we hadn't covered, when my kids get frustrated that they don't understand or can't do something, it prompts them to either do research to figure out the answer on their own, or to ask me for help and to teach them about that.

The difference between the first two types of frustration and the third one, which makes two negative and one beneficial is that in the third situation, they aren't stuck in a bad situation, and it isn't done to them purposefully. On top of that, the third situation is only beneficial if they have the ability and/or permission to make the change needed to no longer be frustrated, as well as having the emotional support to not give up, but to persevere and solve the issue.

Therefore, a big part of my method is to not purposely frustrate my kids, not lock them in a situation in which they have no means of changing the things that are frustrating them, and I help them come up with solutions if they can't figure them out on their own, and encourage them if they feel like giving up.
When it comes to language acquisition, they know I am ready, willing, and able to work with them on improving their language skills. Same for math and for reading.

I see how frustration at not being able to read certain instructions in games he played encouraged my son, Ike, to figure out how to read, without my pushing him at all.
Just as I was writing this post, Anneliese was playing with modeling clay and Rose kept on trying to take her creation and breaking it, and Anneliese was getting very frustrated, which led her to come up with a solution- to share the modeling clay with her sister, and build Rose a replica of what she was working on, so Rose wouldn't be tempted to steal hers.
My son Lee was getting frustrated at not being able to do certain things on his tablet, things that I also didn't know how to do, so that led him to do some research on how to do things, and now he actually knows how to do certain things that I don't even know.
And Rose getting frustrated at not being tall enough to reach things she wanted led her to come up with some really creative solutions for how to reach them.

I do not fear frustration in kids. I do not try to coddle them and shield them from frustrations in life, because I believe frustration is beneficial. So long as they have the ability and support to change what it is that frustrates them, and aren't stuck in a bad situation, frustration is very useful, indeed.

Frustration + Support = Motivation.

What are your thoughts on frustration? Do you think frustration is beneficial or detrimental? If you think it sometimes is beneficial and sometimes not, when do you think it is good and when do you think it is bad?
What benefits have you seen, either personally, or in your family, that stemmed from frustration?
Do you try to purposefully put your kids in frustration situations? Do you try to shield them from it? Or neither?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Thomas Edison was the first thing to pop into my mind when I read your subject line. I totally agree with you!

  2. I think it's really not good that your older boys aren't fluent in your local language yet. Isn't Lee ten already? Their not speaking the local language well does stem from homeschooling and you should've probably started teaching it earlier.

    Is there any way Mike can speak to them only in the local language and you speak to them in English? That way they'll become fluent faster?

    1. Lee is 8, not 10. And he actually does speak the local language, enough that he has some friends that only speak the local language, though his grasp of the language needs to be greatly improved, and we are actually working quite actively on improving their language skills in the local language.

    2. I'm glad to hear that.

  3. You know, this isn't just about frustration, it's about discouraging children from coming up with solutions and implementing them on their own. The ability to figure stuff out for yourself is a huge gift, as is the space and time to work on it. Something unschooling is very good at. Where we live now, I see so many parents orchestrating their kids' lives, micromanaging every minute. In the short term the kids look very successful. But long term, what will happen?

  4. You sound like a great mom. Just want to point out that kids are not mature enough to self settle and "force" themselves to study. Especially in the early phase of aquiring a new skill when it's more difficult and less familiar.
    Only after putting in the concentrated effort and repetitious practice is the child rewarded with a sense of mastery. Then the skill that was once foreign and difficult can become easy and a source of pleasure.
    So sure frustration that leads to learning is great. But tolerating the frustration of learning also leads to learning. Especially in subjects that a child needs a certain level of self discipline to master.

  5. We just had an experience with this on Saturday. My son (who is in 5th grade, in public school) asked me if we could go out to dinner. I said we were going to have dinner at home because we had avocados that were ripe and ready to use; we would have guacamole and beans; Daddy and I would discuss whether we could go out on Sunday. My son was frustrated that he couldn't have what he wanted right away--I'm not sure why it was so important to him, but he really argued for quite a while and wasn't quite rational, repeatedly saying, "I don't want JUST guacamole! That's not a dinner!" even though I had said we'd also have beans. Finally he stomped away. Half an hour later he was back: "Can we make it into a layered dip? Can I use the blender on the beans to make bean dip? Do we have cheddar I can grate? Can I make the layers for each person in a separate glass dish?" I said yes to all the questions and suddenly changed from having an angry kid who didn't want to eat the dinner to having a kitchen assistant who did more than half the work--and I didn't do anything to make it happen, except let him experience frustration and think of a way to enjoy the dinner we were going to have.

  6. I think that you are a great mom with great ideas. I do however disagree with this post. Reading and writing are basic basic skills that must be taught. It's not fair for a child to have to be frustrated in order to learn to read and write!

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