There are two common misconceptions that hinder parents from raising emotionally resilient children. The first is that “healthy children” have appropriate emotional reactions. The second is that “good parents” are immediately able to help their children overcome negative emotions.
First, do not believe the lie that only “healthy children” have appropriate emotional reactions. You may become fixated on solving a problem that does not exist. If your child is under the age of 8 and your ONLY concern is that he/she displays overly negative emotions, please know that this is completely age appropriate. Children tend to become upset when they are denied access to what they want, are made to do what they do not want to do, are not given enough attention, or are physically overwhelmed (tired, hungry, etc). If they are over the age of 8, you should see a SLOW improvement in their ability to display self-control when they become upset. Once puberty starts, just try to remember how hard that season of life was on you and model the reactions you want to see.
Second, the idea that “good parents” can immediately manage their child’s negative emotions is false. If children are not forced to struggle through their own negative emotions, they are bypassing a vital part of the developmental process. Sometimes what appears to be “good parenting” is detrimental for character building. We help children build character and emotional resilience by simply sitting with them in difficult moments.
What does it mean to “sit” with your struggling child?
- It is telling your toddler that he cannot have another cookie and holding him close when he starts to cry. It is not redirecting his attention to distract him from the frustration.
- It is actively listening to your preteen tell a story about how mean her friends can be. It is not helping her see another perspective or telling her how to respond more appropriately.
- It is letting your child be afraid. It is not dismissing the fear or allowing it to dictate his behavior.
- It is letting your daughter push the Legos away when her Lego tower falls apart. It is not giving her instructions on how to take deep breaths instead.
Excellent parents just sit in the struggle with their children. They save teaching for when learning is optimal. They do not attempt to solve, control, or avoid their child’s negative emotions. Despite the circumstances, they remain focused on their goal of raising emotionally regulated adults who can respond appropriately when things do not go their way.
Excellent parents focus on actions more than feelings and attitudes. When they do this, they help their children learn that their feelings cannot dictate their behavior. They do not attempt to make their children “feel good” about doing hard things. Instead, they do it with them. If their child does not want to go to the bathroom, they take her anyway. If their child is afraid of jumping in the pool, they jump in with him. It is easy to parent with words, but excellent parents speak with their actions.
Excellent parents help their children understand that it is normal to experience all 87 emotions. They do not teach their children to chase “good” emotions and avoid the “bad”. They help children understand that negative emotions are not problematic, but a normal part of enjoying life to its fullest.
Be an excellent parent by being strong enough to just sit with your children when they experience negative emotions, stay calm when they display inappropriate reactions, and take the necessary actions to do the hard things with them instead of simply talking to ease your own discomfort.