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Why Does My Child Get Frustrated Playing Games?

October 16, 2019

by Laura Higgins

Digital Well-Being

This blog post is part of an ongoing series about digital well-being and how play builds resilient online citizens…

Games are meant to be fun, right? Well, depending on the age of your child you may have seen them display behaviors that would seem at odds with it being “fun.” Shouting, throwing the controller down, even growling in frustration. Surely this can’t be healthy?

Playing games online is no different from playing in a park where kids will experience lots of different emotions during one play session. Most things with a competitive aspect can lead to brief feelings of anger, but also the desire to try harder next time, and to beat that opponent—think about the passion displayed by top sports people like Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

The important thing is to help your child manage those feelings. They are okay in short bursts, but it’s exhausting for any of us to live in a constant state of stress. Here are six things you can do to help your child keep their emotions in check:

1. While it’s tempting, don’t say things like “snap out of it,” or “stop getting so angry.” You wouldn’t be able to switch yourself off that easily, would you? Think about what strategies might work for your child and help them de-escalate their emotions. For example, counting backward from five or imagining sending the energy inside them out through their fingers.

2. If the game they are playing is highly competitive, perhaps suggest regular breaks or to swap it with other less intense games

3. Set limits on what is allowed. Every child is different, and for some, a quick flash of frustration when they lose a match is fine. However, if it goes on for a sustained period or happens every time they lose, this may need managing. Don’t wait for their anger to become problematic. 

4. Talk to them about appropriate games for their abilities. If they are playing games that are designed for more experienced players, it could be that they are trying to play something they just aren’t ready for. It’s also helpful to acknowledge that practice makes perfect—maybe let them get really good at a slightly more simple game with the promise that if they reach a certain standard, then they can start easing into the next level up. 

5. If other players are making them upset, help your child manage the situation. Is the other child being mean? Are they breaking the rules? Perhaps you can help your child develop some negotiation skills so they all have a better time playing together. 

6. As always, be a good role model for your kids and teens. If you fly off the handle every time you forget your password to your online banking, your kids might view that as an appropriate response too. 

Remember that all emotions are healthy and anger is natural. Providing your kids and teens with tools to recognize and then manage these emotions, to work through them and move on, will help form essential skills that will help them navigate both online and offline worlds.