A Conversation with 11-Year-Old Asher About Frustration
Following is a conversation I had with my 11-year-old son (ADHD, Asperger’s, giftedness) about Frustration. Being easily frustrated is an issue many differently-wired kids deal with on a regular basis, and it can lead to challenging situations in the classroom and at home. It’s also a tough one for many parents to know how to handle because frustrations can often seem to come from what we might be perceive to be an overreaction to something. Therefore, it can be harder for us to empathize and support our child through the frustration.
This is an edited transcription of Episode 6 of the TiLT Parenting Podcast. To listen to the full episode, click here: Episode 6: A Conversation with Asher about Frustration PODCAST.
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Frustration used to be one of my son Asher’s primary emotions, which isn’t actually unusual or surprising, especially because of his having classic asynchronous development issues stemming from the contrast of his high IQ and his emotional development. I also know having a low tolerance for frustration is a big part of many differently-wired kids’ lives.
Frustration can come out in so many different circumstances, but one situation that seems to frequently illicit it is when kids are working on creative and school projects and they have this picture in their head of what they want to do or create, but what they come up with falls short of their expectations.
Also, just to be clear, I realize this kind of situation can be extremely frustrating for neurologically typical kids too, especially with those with perfectionistic tendencies. But because with differently-wired kids there can be a pretty large disconnect between their vision and the final product, kids who struggle with things that don’t go the way they expect can get especially triggered. And the way they express that frustration is very often bigger than their peers.
I wanted to ask Asher about frustration because lately I’ve been noticing in him a fledgling ability to “roll with punches.” This is a very new development, and it’s very exciting. During a homeschool project we’ve been working on recently, I realized just how far he’s come.
Debbie: Today when you were working on an architecture art project, I noticed that you made some mistakes. And I made a comment: “Oh, I didn’t realize you made a mistake because I didn’t hear a big explosion.”
Asher: And I was like: “But I told you that I made a mistake.”
Debbie: It struck me that this is kind of a new response. Because there was a time where, if you were doing something and you made a mistake or it didn’t go the way you wanted and the vision you were trying to create suddenly wasn’t turning out the way you hoped, it didn’t go well. Do you remember what that used to be like?
Asher: Yes. I used to be like: “Ahhhh! I made a mistake! Ahhhhh! Screw the whole thing! Stupid mistakes!
Asher’s description here is a little understated. The reality is that making a mistake on pretty much anything—a drawing, a homework sheet, a maze, really anything—was the catalyst for a huge explosion. Shouting, shredding, storming, and slamming…the whole nine yards. But on this day, something very different happened.
Debbie: Today you were doing an art project…actually, an architecture project where you were designing a home.
Asher: I didn’t know it was supposed to be a home, I thought it was just a building.
Debbie: Yes, that’s right. Not a home…a building. And you chose the architectural style of—
Debbie: Right. And you were using a ruler and pencil and paper—
Asher: —and I drew this huge sort of crystalline obelisk that was held off the ground by a bunch of like pylons.
Debbie: Yeah, it was very cool looking.
Asher: Yeah, I’ll say.
So, Asher was happily working away on his project. And by the way, Asher working away independently on any project is the cause for much joy for this momma. But suddenly, he made a mistake.
Debbie: So I was sitting across the room, and I heard like: “Ah! I made a mistake. That’s not what I wanted.” And then I heard the eraser and then you just kept going. Last year, that would not have been the case. Last year, that would have been enough for you to potentially shred the paper and storm out of the room.
Asher: That would have been unfortunate.
Debbie: Yes, do you remember when that used to be the case?
Asher: Sort of.
The goal is to help him continue becoming self-aware and knowing his strengths and weaknesses so he can start anticipating challenges and know how to better respond to them.
One of the things I spend a lot of the time doing with Asher is noticing. And then pointing out to him when he makes a more positive choice like when it comes to an emotional response to something. My good friend Alison Bower, who’s one of my guides in figuring out how to best navigate parenting Asher, has trained me to ask reflective questions of Asher so he can learn more about himself and his own process. The goal is to help him continue becoming self-aware and knowing his strengths and weaknesses so he can start anticipating challenges and know how to better respond to them.
Debbie: Why do you think you took it so hard when you made mistakes in the past?
Asher: I’m not exactly sure.
Debbie: Would you say that you are a perfectionist?
Asher: Sort of. Like, it doesn’t have to be completely one hundred percent perfect, but I can’t do it if it’s bad. It has to be good or else I’ll keep trying until it is good.
Debbie: Well, that’s interesting that you say you’ll keep trying until it is good because—
Asher: Or until I get too infuriated to even be able to work on it.
Asher: And that’s the one small problem.
I was curious to know if Asher noticed the difference himself or if he knew what changed for him. If he knew why today and actually more and more lately he’s moving through frustration in increasingly useful way.
Debbie: What has changed for you or what feels different for you that’s preventing you from having that big explosion of frustration?
Asher: I’m not exactly sure. Part of it is that I’d rather not destroy my own work.
Debbie: Does it feel different for you?
Asher: Yeah, it feels better.
Debbie: Can you describe what’s going on in your mind?
Asher: I’m thinking, “Ugh, I made a mistake! Well, that’s what erasers are for. Erase, erase, erase.”
Debbie: Did you start to get upset but then caught yourself and prevented the explosion from happening? I’m just curious to know what helped you have a different response.
Asher: I was a teeny bit upset, but then I stopped myself. Like I wasn’t going to have an explosion.
Debbie: What was the outcome then for you?
Asher: Then I ended up having a faint pencil line that wasn’t where I wanted it.
Debbie: Is that okay?
Asher: Yeah, it’s fine.
Debbie: Are you still going to complete the project or do you feel like it’s ruined?
Asher: Yes, I’m still going to complete the project.
Last year Asher and I had read through this great book called What to Do When Your Temper Flares – A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems with Anger by Dawn Huebner. The book shared different strategies for diffusing anger and frustration in the moment. I reminded Asher of this book asked him if he’d stop himself from getting super upset by changing the voice in his head to something less negative.
Asher: Sort of yes. But I’m not consciously like: “This mistake is completely fine because I have an eraser.” I’m just like, “Oh, that’s fine. I have an eraser.” It’s a logical conclusion instead of a conscious thought.
Debbie: And it’s also not an emotional reaction. I mean, it used to be always emotional, right?
Debbie: You used to have big explosions if things didn’t go your way, especially on something you were creating. Do you think those days are behind you? Do you think you had no problem today because that was just the mood you were in?
Asher: I think they’re behind me.
I’m not consciously like: “This mistake is completely fine because I have an eraser.” I’m just like, “Oh, that’s fine. I have an eraser.” It’s a logical conclusion instead of a conscious thought.
I’m not sure the explosions are totally behind Asher, but they are so unusual these days that my husband and I are almost shocked when they do happen. And considering they used to be a daily occurrence, sometimes multiple times a day, to say this is progress would be a huge understatement. It’s interesting I used to want to avoid situations where Asher had the potential to get frustrated, mostly because I would have done anything to avoid the explosion I knew would invariably follow. But now, I’m fine with it. In fact, I’d even say that I welcome the frustrations because now I look at them as opportunities to practice getting through frustrating situations without totally losing it and developing that muscle in his brain. And let’s face it, appropriately managing frustration is a skill that pretty much every human on the planet could use.
Debbie: So, what’s your plan for finishing up the project then? I’m just curious.
Asher: Well, eventually I want to get some kind of architecture 3D modeler tool thingy and actually build it.
Debbie: Right, that sounds pretty cool.
Asher: It will be.
Debbie: I would like to see that.
Asher: Me too.
Debbie: Alright, thank you Asher.
Asher: You’re welcome!
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Want to get learn more? Here are links to the resources mentioned in the article:
About Debbie and Asher: Debbie Reber is the founder of TiLT and the host of the TiLT Parenting Podcast. 11-year-old Asher is Debbie’s son and is regularly featured on the podcast. Find out more about Debbie and Asher by visiting the About Page.