Remember that time your child was competing for something? She’d worked hard and felt 100% confident that her time, diligence, and determination would pay off. But something went wrong. She missed, she didn’t get chosen, she froze, she panicked, she tripped, she blinked, she misjudged, she forgot.
Imposing feelings accompany failed attempts. It’s normal to experience disappointment, frustration, anger, embarrassment, humiliation, rejection, confusion, dread, disgust, anxiety, and more. But it’s neither normal nor healthy to be paralyzed by these feelings.
On these occasions, when we feel bad for our child, we sometimes worry that talking with our child about their emotions will make them feel even worse. That their emotional intensity will heighten.
This is not the case. What is true is that processing feelings with them helps their hurt heal so life can move forward.
Adolescents lack the skills and experience to process their emotions well. We know that feelings are neither right nor wrong and realize that they come and go, but our children don’t have these insights. Nor do they recognize that each emotion provides significant and valuable information.
What should you say to Morgan when she misses the throw at home and the winning run scores in the bottom of the last inning? She feels guilt and remorse that she let the team down. She ruminates that she should have kept her eyes on the ball not the runner. She frets that she’ll lose her spot as the starting catcher.
Invite dialogue and do these three things:
- Listen to her story. This is how she processes the reality of the event. Stay away from correcting her perception or telling your similar story.
- Accept her feelings. This how she defines and owns them. Don’t smooth over them.
- Empathize with her. This is how she feels understood and can move forward. Save problem solving for later.
You’ve got the strength and the grace to invite conversations about the tough and disappointing events. As you do this you teach your child emotional wellness skills and balance for life. I trust in you.
It’s an ordinary Tuesday, no more and no less valuable than yesterday or tomorrow. Emma, 14, awakes with a twinge of uncertainty. The gray skinny jeans, white T-shirt and booties chosen Monday night to stave off a fashion crisis this morning, she now finds dreadfully unacceptable. Her confident creativity comes to life. In her short search she matches gray sweats with a pair of pink high-tops. “Aha! I love it!”
We might not recognize the difference between gray jeans and sweats. But for Emma, on this Tuesday morning, it’s massive. Rather than staying stuck on yesterday’s decision, losing it, or ruminating about how miserable she’ll be in jeans, her resilience and problem-solving skills kick-in. As she shares her fashion success story with us, we must compliment her decision-making process and admire her sense of style.
Her twin, Eric, hits the snooze button again. And again. Somewhere, between awake and asleep, he plans his strategy: go to the bathroom, get dressed, gulp down a smoothie, grab his backpack and click his seat belt by 7:55 AM. Without a hitch he’s certain he can sleep until 7:44 AM and brag in the car, “Aha! I did it in 11 minutes!”
We might be tempted to brand Eric’s longing to sleep as long as possible as procrastinating or risk-taking. Especially if his morning habits vary vastly from our roomy routines. A better action is to admire him for his time management and self-direction skills. On the ride to school we must take the opportunity to praise his planning skills and authentically appreciate him for being on time.
Emma and Erik, and our kids, too, need us to cultivate their internal integrity and external habits by intentionally encouraging and reinforcing them. As we strengthen and hone their core beliefs in themselves, we raise the best of humankind.
I admire and appreciate all you do,