The crux of good mental/emotional health is a quality known as “emotional resilience” – the ability to withstand and keep moving forward, chin up, in the face of disappointment, deprivation, prolonged frustration, crisis, setback, loss, and failure.
We want our children to become adults who can handle everything life has to offer—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We want to raise human beings who are capable of overcoming life’s challenges (even the really hard ones) with grace, dignity, fortitude, and resolve. We want our children to become strong, healthy, emotionally resilient adults.
The best way for children to become emotionally resilient adults is for them to become emotionally resilient children and the only way for them to do this is with practice—practice feeling uncomfortable emotions, practice accepting uncomfortable emotions, and practice moving through them to a place of resolve. As parents, it is our job to allow them to practice.
It can be painful to watch our children experience any kind of discomfort, emotional or otherwise, and so we often try to shelter them from such adverse feelings. We coddle, pamper, indulge and cocoon our children to prevent them from feeling anything “bad” or “sad.”
The irony is, when we prevent our children from feeling bad, we are denying them practice with uncomfortable feelings, which in turn deprives them of a chance at developing strong emotional resiliency.
The truth is that children are much more capable than they are typically given credit for.
Children are able to handle hard emotions, and with our support, the more they practice, the easier it gets. When children are given the chance to practice, to experience for themselves, the things that are hard or uncomfortable they develop the ability to feel uncomfortable emotions without falling to pieces, they develop the strength necessary to accept uncomfortable emotions, and they develop the courage to move through them.
The next time your child is feeling bad, try not to fix it and make them feel better. Instead, just be there in empathy, maintain your connection, and model how to accept hard feelings.
It can help to give language to the feeling and situation by describing what you see, “When I told you it was time to leave the park and go home, I noticed you got really upset and angry. It looks like you would rather stay here and play then go home right now. It can be really hard to stop doing something that you love to do, especially when you are not ready to stop. It’s OK to feel upset and angry. It’s not OK to yell at me, or anyone else because of it. If we had more time I would love to stay and play. I know it can be really hard to leave, but right now it is time to go home and make a delicious dinner. We will come to the park again soon.”