We want our children to be happy - who wouldn’t? Part of our responsibility, however, is to teach them that life can be hard and there is always a way to work around how tumultuous it can be.
A prevalent urge for many parents is to make their children’s lives better and easier than the one they grew up with. Take away the stressors, the hardships, and give them the answers to the failures the parents already know are coming. In theory, this is a spectacular notion. Practically, however, the theory could probably do with a little more revision.
Our attempts to make everything go smoothly for our children (while certainly well intended) are causing an unforeseen byproduct in the chain reactions of their lives. By shielding them from most of the hard situations, failures, and complexities of life, we aren’t teaching them some of the basic pillars of life and how to work with them.
The most apparent of these is that, sometimes, life is hard.
Life events don’t ALWAYS go our way. People let us down and, yes, losing happens at least 50% of the time. Our society can be stormy and even downright frightening. While none of us want the world to operate in this manner, and we’d rather shield our children from that environment (again, who wouldn’t?), it's also ok to accept the reality of the world as it is and give our children the best tools to operate within that world.
Here are some thoughts to consider when you are helping your child maneuver through big emotions.
1. Find your emotional center
This feels rather intuitive, but not many people consider this before they try to help their child. If you are not centered and calm, you are going to exacerbate the situation with your kid. In other words, if you are not calm and collected during any trying situation, how can you ever expect your child to be as well?
2. You have to learn to let go a little bit too
As we all know, life is hard. It can be incredibly difficult to watch your child make a small mistake that you know you can prevent. Just as you made those mistakes, however, so too does your child. Give them the chance to come back from it, and give yourself the chance to grow with them. Yes, it’s difficult, but your relationship will be better for it.
3. Label the emotions they are feeling
Kids feel a WIDE range of emotions - much the same way you do. The problem that they face, though, is that they don’t yet have the intellectual capacity to properly name the feeling. As adults, we have become comfortable with knowing our feelings and being able to communicate them as necessary but many children simply don’t have that ability yet. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to feel something and not have the words to express what it feels like? By helping them name the feeling (and giving THEM the chance to do it with a little direction from you) you can help assess the situation and give them the tools to work through the hardship.
4. Always be present for them
Life can be busy and many adults have a tendency to downplay a child’s fears, anger, and frustration. It’s not our fault, we simply know that they are larger problems in the world than how little sister is using the red crayon instead of the blue crayon. That doesn’t mean, however, it isn’t a BIG deal to the child. At that moment, those emotions are real and they are present. It’s easy to just dismiss the problem outright (because who has time to sort through red and blue crayons, right?) but that stunts their emotional growth because now a parent is asking the child to not only stifle the anger, but to also not acknowledge it. An option here is to acknowledge the problem, ask what they are feeling, and what they believe the solution should be. Then say that you are there to help them work through it. Which then leads into #5…
5. Give them a chance and the tools to calm down
There is a physical and neurological reason why your child is feeling the way they do. Our job is to help them work through the emotional waves and give them the best chance to calm down. Perhaps it’s breathing exercises which help calm the nervous system down. Or, would they be open to doing a grounding exercise which helps them see past the frustration? Better yet, should everyone consider going outside and releasing all the tension in their bodies with a little fun physical exercise?
Allowing children to feel defeat, anger, frustration, and sadness is never ideal. But it is necessary for them to be able to navigate the world, and give them the best chance to have the emotional capacity to do so before they enter that big world. Start small, and gradually work your way through more emotional complexities.