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Helping your Twice-Exceptional (2e) Child Build Frustration Tolerance

By Day Sanchez.

Frustration is a typical emotional response that arises when a person is prevented from

reaching a desired outcome. It is an inevitable part of life. We can all develop skills to

help us manage life's daily frustrations, but the emotional depth and intensity that

characterizes gifted individuals make low frustration tolerance a prevalent issue for

families of gifted children. Because learning differences and social-emotional difficulties

come with additional challenges, this is an even bigger issue for twice-exceptional (2e)

minds and their families.

The good news is that twice-exceptional children can master the competencies needed to

regulate their intense emotions. Gaining self-regulation skills can help gifted and twice-exceptional children overcome obstacles and tolerate disappointments constructively.

Children who successfully learn to cope with frustration in healthy ways, develop

confidence that will likely guide them when navigating life's challenges later on. It all

starts with emotional self-awareness.

Developing Emotional Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the anchor of emotional intelligence and a fundamental competency on

which other emotional skills build upon. Emotional self-awareness is the ability to

monitor our feelings from moment to moment and pay attention to our internal states

including our self-talk and our thoughts about our feelings and emotions. It is about

observing ourselves closely and recognizing our emotional, thinking, and behavioral

patterns and being able to use that information efficiently to make any necessary changes

to better ourselves. It also includes having an accurate sense of our strengths and


Emotional self-awareness is the first step in building strong frustration tolerance skills. Children with strong emotional self-awareness understand the relationship and difference

between their emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions. They are able to recognize when

a particular emotion is arising and use appropriate vocabulary to express different

feelings and emotions.

Due to their high intellect, many gifted children tend to have an overly analytical

approach to life, which can complicate their abilities to sort through their feelings and

make sense of their emotions. For this reason, some gifted children need to work twice as

hard to develop these skills. Here are three ways to help your 2e/ gifted child boost their

emotional self-awareness and build strong frustration tolerance skills.

Encourage Healthy Expression

Many parents ask me about de-escalation techniques for calming down a child who is

past her tipping point and having a full-blown meltdown, but it may be easier for children

to learn techniques to prevent them from getting to that point. A more proactive approach

would be to provide children with opportunities to practice expressing their emotions

regularly so that they are more likely to find appropriate ways to communicate their

frustration when they do become upset.

Emotions are a normal part of life, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways to express

them. Encourage healthy emotional expression by talking about your feelings openly in

front of your child. Allow your child to see that everyone experiences frustration almost

on a daily basis. Be vulnerable in front of your child and actively seek opportunities to

model healthy ways to express your frustrations and disappointments.

When faced with an unpleasant incident, remind yourself to use the tools you want your

child to learn. Remember that someone is watching you closely and learning from you. Use your behavior to show your child how to manage irritating situations calmly and


You can have more control over your mental and emotional states when you are familiar

with your breathing patterns. The rhythm of your breathing can influence your brain's

activity. Slowing down your breath can help you soothe your nervous system. Shallow

and rapid breathing can contribute to more stress and anxiety. On the other hand, deep

breathing techniques are useful in calming the mind down because they can trigger a

switch in the body's nervous system from a sympathetic and more reactive stage to a

parasympathetic and calmer stage. You can count to 10 slowly or breathe in through your

nose and out through your mouth to slow down your breathing and regulate your stress


Be very evident about the steps you are taking to prevent yourself from escalating or

reaching your boiling point. Always provide examples of the language and emotional

vocabulary your child can use to communicate his frustrations. Use words that are

developmentally appropriate for your child's age.

If your child does reach his/her boiling point and is having a meltdown, acknowledge and

validate their frustration and allow them to process their negative emotions by providing

a safe space to calm down. At this point, asking questions or encouraging expression may

not be the best idea. Wait until the anger has subsided and your child is ready to talk.

If your child becomes aggressive, gently guide them to a “cooling down” spot or “calm

down corner” in your house, if you have one. This should not be a space designated for a

time-out, but rather, a safe area where your child can release his anger. If you don’t have

this spot in your home, you can easily set one up and involve your child in the process by

designing and building this space together. You may include comforting items such as

cushions, pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals. If your child has sensory needs, you can

also include sensory activities that can help soothe your child’s frustration.

Once your child has calmed down, it is crucial to address the way they expressed their

frustration. Let your child know his/her behaviors and reactions were not acceptable and

teach the skills they will need to use the next time they are faced with frustration or


Give it a Voice!

Recognizing an emotion is the first step in gaining some control over it. One way to help

your child get in the habit of noticing and identifying their emotions is to encourage them

to give their emotions a voice. This can take various forms depending on your child's age

and developmental stage.

For 2e teenagers, journaling can be a great way to start getting familiar with their feelings

and emotional patterns. By regularly recording their thoughts and experiences, children

can gain insight into their attitudes and behaviors. They can use their journal to do freeform

writing, draw, write poems, or use it in any way that feels comfortable for them.

It is important to encourage your child to forget about grammar or editing when

journaling. If your twice-exceptional child struggles with writing, they can also use a

voice memo or audio recorder instead to document their feelings in a way that doesn't

remind them of their weakness.

Children in preschool and elementary school tend to struggle more with frustration

tolerance because their vocabulary for feelings is just emerging. Many young 2e children

are also lagging in communication skills and lack the abilities to name and label their

feelings and emotions. So if you have a younger child, they will need much more practice

in this area. They can use images, pictures, or a feelings chart to help them develop a

strong vocabulary to describe their feelings and build emotional literacy.

Younger children can also give emotions a voice by using funny and memorable names. I’ve worked with children who use names like "Angry Angus," "Anxious Annie," or "Sad Sally" when they begin to notice a particular emotion arising in them. Get creative with

your child and help them come up with fun names they will remember using.

By giving emotions a distinct voice, children begin to separate themselves from the

emotion. There is a dissociation that allows the child to see that she is not an angry

person, but is merely experiencing the emotion of anger. Once children get in the habit of

identifying and labeling their emotions, they will start to gain more control over their

actions and reactions.

Mapping Emotions on the Body

Emotions can manifest as physical sensations throughout the body. Anger and frustration

often trigger physical cues that your child may be able to identify in their body. Most

children who struggle with frustration tolerance are not aware of the connection between

their emotions and their bodies, so we have to teach them to notice the subtle warning

signs that lead to their behavior getting out of control. Encouraging your child to pay

attention to these cues can help them recognize when they are becoming angry or upset

and give them a chance to interrupt the tension from building up.

Although they are often used interchangeably, emotions and feelings are not the same

thing. Think of emotions as universal, hard-wired responses that create biochemical

changes in our bodies. Feelings are mental associations and reactions to emotions and are

acquired through personal experience. Understanding this difference can help us gain

more control over our emotions and our feelings about those emotions.

"Emotions play out in the theater of the body. Feelings play out in the theater of the


~Dr. Antonio Damasio, Neuroscientist

For younger children, you can help them map their emotions in the body by drawing the

outline of a person and asking them to point out where they feel their anger, for example.

They can use different colors to identify each area and label different emotions. Developing awareness of these physical sensations can help children understand the way

they perceive, interpret, and manage strong emotions.

Another way to help your child learn about these physical cues is by giving examples of

your warning signs. Share with your child the way you feel in the moments right before

your frustration levels rise. For example, you may point out that your heart races faster,

your shoulders feel tense, or your neck feels sore. Some warning signs for children may

be clenching their fist or feeling other uncomfortable sensations on their chest, stomach,

or throat. See if your child can identify any areas where they feel particularly tense when

they think about becoming frustrated. Encourage them to identify at least one strategy

they can utilize when they become aware of these sensations.

Mapping these physical changes can be a valuable tool for your child when preventing

frustration from spiraling out of control. Given this knowledge of where they feel their

emotions, they can pause and take a moment to figure out what they need to do to

decrease the intensity of these emotions and reverse the frustration cycle.

Be patient. Helping your child build frustration tolerance skills takes time, practice, and

discipline, but the benefits go far beyond their teenage years. A twice-exceptional child

with strong emotional self-awareness and self-regulation skills can conquer the world!


Day Sanchez is a bilingual school psychologist, education specialist, and social and

emotional intelligence coach. She has over eight years of experience working with gifted

and twice-exceptional (2e) children in public, charter, and private schools in California,

Florida, and New Jersey. She collaborates with parents to guide 2e children in rewiring

their brain for positive mindsets, developing positive behaviors, and building important

life skills so they can experience success and explore their gifts and talents. Her approach

draws on social and emotional learning, positive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive

behavioral techniques. In 2017, Day left the public education system to help 2e families

advocate for their children's rights. Shortly after that, she founded 2e Minds to provide

guidance, support, and resources for 2e children and their families.

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