“Argh!” is a familiar soundtrack at our house these days. It’s the internet glitching and kicking us out of our Google Meets and Zoom calls. Or it’s trying to cultivate a new hobby that has a steep learning curve (Hello, sewing). Or it’s the daily annoyances that inevitably build up after months of being around each other 24/7 (Hello, family).
Whatever the source, frustration can feel very intense, and we don’t always channel that frustration in emotionally healthy ways. In a troop setting, poorly managed frustration can lead to unwanted outcomes—girls snap at each other or check out and refuse to participate in an activity. While we can’t do away with frustration entirely (Nor should we—struggling has its benefits!), we can teach our Girl Scouts how to better cope with and manage it. Let’s explore.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
I know, you hear this advice for every problem. Mad? Take some deep breaths. Stressed? Take some deep breaths. Anxious? You know what to do. But there’s a reason why taking deep breaths is one of the first steps in trying to change our perspective when handling a problem. When we feel overwhelmed, we tend to subconsciously hold our breath or breathe shallowly. Taking just a few seconds to inhale and exhale can really help slow down our heart rate, lower our blood pressure, and give us some breathing room (See what I did there?) to think more clearly.
Take a Break
Very few issues are so pressing that they need to be addressed and solved right away. In fact, trying to resolve something when you’re in a negative mindset might even make things worse. Grit is awesome, but we also need to recognize the difference between seeing things through (usually good) and digging in our heels (not so good). Notice when your Girl Scouts are feeling frustrated and give them permission to step away. It’s the same tactic adept coaches use—when they realize that players on the field are getting too heated and not making wise decisions, they’ll call for a quick time-out to regroup.
Take Stock of Other Needs
If you’ve ever interacted with toddlers or children before, you’ll quickly learn those bad moods can be exacerbated by unmet needs. Namely: hunger and tiredness. That doesn’t necessarily change as kids age. Plugging away at a task even when their stomach is growling or their eyelids are drooping is a surefire path to frustration. Make sure that girls have their basic physical needs met before you start or resume an activity—merely suggesting, “Hey, let’s grab something to eat or take a bio break before we move on” can help girls re-center themselves.
Reinforce Positive Skills with Reflection
After the moment of frustration has passed, it’s helpful to look back and talk about what happened. What did girls notice when they first started getting frustrated? Did they clench their teeth, did their vision narrow, did they start feeling hot? These are early warning signals their bodies are giving them that they now know to tune in to. What happened afterward—did they label their emotions and take a break to calm down, or were they unable to? Good job if they did, but it’s okay if they didn’t. What could they try next time?
One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, tells this story from her childhood: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day…He was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils…immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
At the end of the day, let’s give ourselves grace. Things that wouldn’t faze us or our Girl Scouts before now send us into a tailspin. We don’t react the way we normally would and then we feel bad about not being able to cope better. We shouldn’t though—we’re just ordinary humans living in extraordinary times. Situations will seem insurmountable and frustration will bubble up, but sometimes, all we can do is breathe deeply and take it bird by bird.
Lily Yu – Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Brownie troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (And rescue dog, Neil!).