Help Children Deal with Frustration and Become more Persistent

Carolyn Webster-Stratton from the University of Washington has developed an incredible evidence based approach designed to “promote children’s social competence, emotional regulation and problem solving skills and reduce their behavior problems.” This approach is titled “The Incredible Years.” More information is at the website:


Below is a short excerpt from our “How to Talk so Parents will Listen” book that focuses on one small dimension of Dr. Webster-Stratton’s program. Our book is at:

Persistence Coaching

A part of the “Incredible Years” parent training curriculum includes a unit on what Webster-Stratton (2007) refers to as persistence coaching. Persistence coaching is especially designed for children with attention difficulties and provides an excellent example of intense and passionate social reinforcement. Webster-Stratton (2007) describes the procedure:

During persistence coaching, the parent is commenting on the child’s attention to the task. A parent might say to his child who is working with blocks, “You are really concentrating on building that tower; you are really staying patient; you are trying again and are really focusing on getting it as high as you can; you are staying so calm; you are focused; there, you did it all by yourself.” With this persistence coaching, the child begins to be aware of his internal state when he or she is calm, focused, and persisting with an activity. (pp. 317–318; italics in original)

This example by Webster-Stratton not only illustrates focused and passionate attention as a behavioral reinforcer, it also includes components of mirroring, solution-focused strategies, and character feedback. After getting intensive attention and specific feedback for persisting on a tower-building task, children are more likely to overcome negative beliefs about themselves and to begin seeing themselves as persistent and capable.

Some parents will say their child hates positive comments and prematurely conclude that these approaches are destined to backfire and be ineffective, perhaps even detrimental. This will be most likely when children display oppositional tendencies and/or have very negative internal beliefs about themselves. As if it were constantly Opposite Day, it will seem to parents as if praise is punishment and punishment is praise when they’re trying to work with their children. Webster-Stratton (2007) comments on this phenomenon:

Children with conduct problems usually get less praise and encouragement from adults than other children. When they do get praise, they are likely to reject it because of their oppositional responses. For some children, this oppositional response to praise and encouragement is actually a bid to get more attention and to keep the adult focusing on them longer. Parents can help these children by giving the praise frequently and then ignoring the protests that follow. Over time with consistent encouragement, the children will become more comfortable with this positive view of themselves. (p. 312) 

Our general policy is to closely watch for backward behavior modification and to counter it by teaching parents how to pay attention to positive behavior, ignore negative behavior, and administer passionate and surprise rewards and boring consequences. We’re sometimes surprised (and rewarded) by how quickly parents see that they’re inadvertently and destructively celebrating Opposite Day, when a regular day would suffice. (See Parent Homework Assignment 9-1.)

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