Low Frustration Tolerance

Q: I have a nine-year-old son who has recently been diagnosed as having auditory processing issues. We had him evaluated because he was having problems paying attention and learning in school. I know that he gets frustrated easily, but I didn’t realize that much of his frustration comes from not understanding what’s going on in class. He gets up out of his seat, sometimes, because the class material seems to be above his head. If you explain a lesson to him slowly, one on one, he gets most everything. He hates doing homework, and is very embarrassed that he needs tutors.

To make things more complicated, he has two older brothers who truly outshine him. His 16-year-old brother is an excellent student and a very serious boy. His 14-year-old brother is very easygoing, and is a pleasure to deal with. The 9-year-old has already said that my husband likes him least of all his sons. I’m sorry to say that he is probably right. If a parent has one son who is a model student, and another who “goes with the flow” — wouldn’t said parent get more obviously irritated by the third son, who has a frustration tolerance issue? And if a parent gets more irritated at you than your brothers — wouldn’t you think that you’re the least loved? I have spoken to my husband many times about this, but I seem to be getting nowhere. How should I handle this?

A: It is definitely a challenge to have one child who obviously struggles more with daily life expectations than his siblings. Such children have defined themselves as the “identified patient” of the family, or the black sheep. They feel different, they find it extremely difficult to deal with their limitations — especially academic— as they see siblings breeze through school (perhaps barely studying). Be it due to auditory processing issues, dyslexia or other academic challenges, the frustration of putting in much effort, and often seeing limited results, cannot be underestimated.

I do not know how much of his low frustration tolerance is due to his learning problems, but it clearly only exacerbates his ability to cope appropriately. This concept needs to be discussed with your husband for him to better comprehend your son’s struggles.

It is a helpful tool for you and your husband to write down (separately) all the positive character traits you can think of to describe your son. These descriptions should be specific (not “a great boy”) and reflect ideals you appreciate, your value system, and what is most important to you. If being kind is one of your son’s positive attributes, you need to find a meaningful way to express this, something that can touch his heart. An example of this could be: “Whoever is fortunate to be your wife and children one day, will be the happiest family that can be. Your kindness is such a gift to all of us.” Or, if your child is very resourceful, you could say, “If I had to be stuck on a desert island, you’d be the person I take with me! You can figure things out in the most amazing way!”

Your husband may say that it is very difficult to respond appropriately to your son’s exasperating behavior, but if he speaks with heartfelt sentiment, your son is sure to feel much more appreciated. Even if one feels that such words are “unnatural and artificial” in the context of a relationship, one needs to try new techniques to get new results. Clearly, continuing with the same behavior one has been exhibiting all along will lead to the same negative results.