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All of our children hit bumps in the road at some point or another.

Some of the challenges kids face are intrinsic. These might include heightened emotional sensitivity, attention/hyperactivity problems, or learning struggles. Other challenges are shorter term – but can still be profoundly disruptive. These can include peer rejection, moving to a new school, failing in a sport, or not liking a teacher. Other problems like defiance or substance abuse can grow over time.

Whether your child’s struggle is temporary or longer lasting, the truth is that struggle is a part of life. It’s how we all grow and mature.

But let’s face it, these struggles don’t just affect our kids. They also affect us. Many parents feel emotional pain when their children face discomfort or emotional pain. Parents instinctively want shield their children from emotional pain, because they’re also trying to shield themselves.

If parents approach children’s struggles mindfully, rather than reactively, they may notice that their children grow as a result of hardship rather than looking to for an emotional rescue.

This is an understandable process, yet it can interfere with children’s ability to be adaptable in the face of discomfort and challenge. Parent’s hovering can actually prevents kid’s emotional maturation. I believe the most important factor in how kids handle life’s vicissitudes is how we respond to and frame struggle for our kids.

If parents approach children’s struggles mindfully, rather than reactively, they may notice that their children grow as a result of hardship rather than looking to for an emotional rescue.

To do this, keep in mind these 5 things:

1 | Stay present with your child instead of fixing, changing, or rescuing

The most common response from parents today is to come to the rescue when their kids are struggling, facing a challenge or simply upset. Parent become their children’s problem-solvers, managers, and advice-givers. Parents feel that it’s their job to run interference on their child’s life, so he or she has a smooth path ahead.

What if I told you that this is actually disrupting your child’s ability to develop his or her own coping skills? That the only way kids learn to problem-solve, face discomfort, and manage their emotions is to face life’s obstacles.

Instead of fixing, parents can be present, stay supportive, but not to take the problem on their own lap. Our children need to face their own problems of childhood so they are equipped to face bigger challenges in adulthood.

2) Allow your child to feel

The best way for kids to be emotionally resilient is for them to feel all their emotions. So if your child is happy, sad, worried, bored, frustrated – allow your child to be with and feel their emotion fully. You can say things that are validating and normalizing – so kids don’t resist their emotions, and instead learn to accept them. For example: “That is sad.” “I imagine that is frustrating.” “Bored is ok, it is a normal feeling we all have.” “I get worried about that too.”

When parents validate and allow kids to feel, there is no need to fix or change their emotions. Instead you are creating space for feelings. All emotions are ok and all emotions are transient. So there is no need to react or resist what we feel. The most naturally way to process emotions is to allow ourselves to feel all our feelings until they pass. We can teach this to our children.

3) Value and embrace struggle

Kids are constantly reading our signals and cues of how to respond to things. It is amazing how much my daughters mimic my responses and reactions to life (good and bad!). If we value struggle and see struggle as necessary and important, kids will more likely see challenges this way as well.

All growth, learning and emotional development comes from struggle. No one matures from a place of comfort. So we can set an intention to embrace struggle and challenge in our lives and in our children’s lives.

4) Normalize set backs, failures, discomfort as part of life

In our culture today we think we should be happy all the time and if we are not something is wrong. Unfortunately many kids then direct this wrong at their own self – “something is wrong with me.” But in reality life is in a constant state of flux. It is normal for emotions to be continually coming and going – not for us to feel happy at all times. When we normalize this pattern then there is no sense of something being “wrong” when we face a challenge or setback or discomfort.

When we frame struggle and setbacks as normal, we are teaching a lot of resilience to our kids. What better lesson is there?

5) Rather than fixing, encourage your child to problem-solve

Problem-solving is not just something for math class. In fact I believe problem-solving is like a muscle which only becomes stronger through repetition. In addition to normalizing struggle and allowing your child to feel, you can also put the problem back on your child, “You’re really good at problem-solving, how do you want to problem-solve this situation?” “What is the best thing to do?” I notice when I say this to my daughter, she looks and me sideways and then smiles and goes off to solve the problem. Kids want to be empowered and feel that they are capable.

For many problems, like peer rejection, there is no simple solution but staying present and available and encouraging your child to solve it, is a great way for your child to build these muscles. Of course we can give advice, but I would really suggest you wait until your child asks, “Mommy what would you do.” So often we rush in with advice when our kids are upset and when they never asked for help or advice.

Reframing Struggle

Although struggle can bring up emotional pain, we still have an intellect and can remember that struggle is the only way we learn. The good thing about emotional struggle is that if we can calm ourselves down enough – our rational minds can see that life is a series of lessons disguised as obstacles. We will not get to where we want to go unless we face all these various obstacles.

When we know that struggle is the only way to learn then instead of resisting obstacles we can move towards them and embrace them and know that there is some essential learning that will happen.

We don’t become wise from life always going our way. We become wise from living in the current of life which involves both big rapids and calm water. We can teach this to our kids.

 

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