Dr Ralph the Therapy Dog helps children in lots of different ways but there are a few common areas of focus. This post is all about how Dog-Assisted Therapy helps children cope with feelings of frustration.
Know a child who looks like this on occasion? Perhaps more often than you would like?
Trust me, you're not alone. I see children every week with low frustration tolerance (LFT). Heck, I used to be an adult with LFT! What does this mean and how can we boost a child's ability to cope with the every day experience of frustration?
LFT describes an inability to tolerate unpleasant feelings or stressful situations. For children, this could be most evident in the following examples:
Not winning a game;
Not getting to go first;
Being told that plans have changed;
When a reward is delayed; or
When things don't go their way.
If your child shows overwhelm or a strong reaction to a small, or trivial, issue, don't dismay. I was able to build my tolerance to frustrating situations as an adult by partaking in particular exercises. A child's brain is more malleable than an adults and thus you can be confident that any effort made to improve their coping skills will be well worth it!
HOW DOES RALPHY HELP??
This is probably one of the most common questions I get. And fair enough, too, because involving dogs in therapy is pretty unique. So I will let you into my world for a moment and share some of the activities we do as a therapy team to address LFT.
Teaching Ralphy a new trick can be a little confusing (for us and him!). Ralph is really responsive to my voice as his owner and so children expect that Ralph will do exactly what they want each and every time. Alas, it is not always the case and this is a powerful teachable moment.
Instead of giving up and allowing the child to believe, "I'm no good", "This is pointless" or "Ralph doesn't listen!" we can workshop what they can do differently. For example, changing tone of voice or body language or trying an alternate motivator (food vs. toy). Problem solving skills are the perfect antidote to LFT.
Switching between activities
I deliberately plan to move from doing something high-energy to something relaxing in an effort to help children develop flexibility and adaptability. Sometimes Ralph has a hard time becoming energised after he has been sleeping or lying still after chasing his ball. I encourage children to observe Ralph and identify what he is having trouble with before devising some strategies for helping him to adjust to the new expectations.
Taking the attention away from Ralph
When we start to focus on ourselves and do an exercise without Ralph, we can sometimes notice in Ralph that he becomes frustrated by the lack of attention. He may start to move around the room or do something he shouldn't. Instead of punishing Ralph or saying that he's being naughty, I can reframe it to the child that Ralph didn't know what was expected of him and so he wasn't deliberately doing a bad thing, he just needed some clear instructions.
This can be empowering for kids who tend to get in trouble at school or home for making (seemingly) poor choices - they can learn to instead advocate for needing more, or clearer, information or having the instruction explained differently to them.
Ralph has some availability for new clients should you wish to meet him and explore the suitability of Dog-Assisted Therapy for your child. All you have to do is fill out the below contact form and I will get back to you - Ralph would if he could, but you know, no opposable thumbs!
Other areas of focus that will feature on the blog include anxiety/worry, perfectionism, anger, and sadness. Watch out for future posts from Dr Ralph if these areas are relevant to you.