Just like you and I, our children get stuck in emotional situations.
My eight-year-old son recently found himself stuck during his weekly extra-curricular swimming class. I first noticed the problem when he jumped out of the pool mid-class and ran over to me in tears. Apparently, he was sad and embarrassed for having come in last place during the warm-ups.
I did my best to encourage him to get back in the water and remind him there was really no competition to get upset about. He was making a mountain out of a molehill. When the same issue came up two more times in a row, I knew this was something I had to focus on and deal with. I wasn’t quite sure what to do or where to turn. Why was he getting so upset over this? It was just a class!
A week later, on the car ride over to the pool, as I anticipated this issue arising again, it hit me.
Just like my son, I get stuck on things. Of course, the situations I get stuck on are different from his, but the idea of getting stuck is one and the same whether you’re an adult or a child. My kids and I have a method we use to get unstuck, but the truth of the matter is, getting unstuck is not enough.
Preparing oneself to anticipate the possibility of getting stuck in the first place (especially with recurring triggers that exist in our lives) can not only help us get out of a sticky place, it can also help us prevent an unfortunate event from erupting.
Personally, I arm myself with “considerations” or fresh alternatives to the stuck situations in my life, such as gratitude, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, and realizing that people who trigger me are not necessarily out to purposefully hurt me.
So, I thought, why not teach my child to arm himself with considerations just like I do? Why not come up with a list of fresh perspectives or alternatives that he can fall upon before he goes into the pool, rather than try to encourage my son to think rationally when he’s treading water in an emotional pool of tears?
Quite familiar with getting unstuck, he was open to the idea. With a little help from me, this is the list we came up with:
- I can consider I’m new to this swimming class and most, if not all of the other kids, have been swimming for years.
- I can consider I don’t always come in last. Sometimes, yes, but not always.
- I can consider there’s not really a problem with coming in last. It doesn’t feel great, but there’s not really a problem with it.
- I can consider the coach purposefully placed me in the stronger group of the two groups because I am one of the stronger swimmers. So, even if I am last sometimes, I’m still stronger than the kids in the other group.
- I can consider I’m here to learn how to be a better swimmer, and I can compete against myself, rather than compare myself to others.
- I can consider I’m getting stronger everyday.
- I can consider it’s normal to feel frustrated.
I was proud of my son for coming up with this list with me. When we arrived at the pool, I asked which consideration he was going to take on. He responded, “I’ve got this, Mom,” and confidently ran off to the pool, leaving me in the dust.
For the first time since this situation arose, I watched my son swim without any apparent issues. I did notice he came in last during the warm-up session, but he didn’t cry, nor did he appear frustrated. He just kept going.
On the ride home that day, I asked him if he used any of the considerations from the list we created. He told me he considered, among other things, that when he didn’t come in last, he could pay attention to who did. I was surprised because we hadn’t thought to put this consideration on our initial list.
Armed with considerations, my son realized on his own that he wasn’t the only one feeling embarrassed or ashamed when coming in last. He realized he could hold others in a space of compassion, knowing he could identify and empathize with them.
And while he didn’t necessarily approach those kids who came in last, he was preparing himself on his own to be considerate to them rather than not caring as soon as he was no longer in their position.
I’m grateful I woke up to the realization that teaching my son to prepare himself with considerations can help him out of sticky life situations. I’m also proud that he raised his own awareness of others who get stuck in the same boat, effectively enhancing his compassion for others.