The value of leaning into what's hard.....
If a child is not ok to lean into what is hard, and endure the frustration….they lose out and lessen their ability to manage difficulty. Children who avoid, control and drift in challenging situations could benefit from learning to lean into frustration – however their fear of getting angry, tearful or ‘stuck’ may prevent that happening.
Thus accepting the emotional react that might occur, and planning for what to do if it occurs, can be much more useful than never letting yourself get into a situation in which you may create big feelings inside. Because the needing to stay away mentality means that almost anything that might create upset becomes a detour, or switches the child towards ‘what I want’ (instead) or an opportunity for negotiation, conflict and refusal.
Sometimes parents give children the message that having big feelings is not ok.
This may be conscious to avoid their own upset or with some idea of creating a child that is strong (though true strength is coping with feelings rather than dismissing or moving away from them). It sometimes happens if their child was a very reactive baby or toddler or has had bouts of aggression. Alternatively they may be less aware and simply be following patterns from their own childhood, or trying to keep a peaceful home or even be totally unconscious of how much their child’s emotional reaction are being tiptoed around or controlled.
Big feelings are human – a little scary, yes, but we come programmed with feelings for a reason – that anger helps us know boundaries, that fear helps us know danger, that sadness helps us know loss, etc. In the past when really big issues were present (high infant mortality, severe economic depressions, starvation, war, etc) feelings simply had to be managed and people moved through life with their feelings and their survival actions. Today our feelings are muted and within our society we are eroding their value, so instead of dealing with big loss, death, threat, we are constantly dealing with the smaller stressors of uncertainty, guilt, disappointment, feelings of exclusion, anxieties….
But these too need honoring and accepting and working WITH.
So to lean into frustration means leaning towards feelings of less worth, of complexity, of error, of competition with others, of judgement – but nevertheless childhood is full of the frustrations of learning and embracing them is better than avoiding them.
Children prefer what is nice, fun, easy, interesting and anger and upset occur when things are not pleasant, hard, boring, new, likely to create mistakes, etc.
Learning to be willing to approach a task/situation/person even thought frustration may occur is where true confidence lies (being told you can do it isn’t nearly as powerful!) This requires that we create in our children a small ‘yes’ to difficulty and we might have to create within ourselves a bigger ‘yes’ to their potential upset in that process. If that upset creates some panic within either adult or child, then planning ahead is vital.
So…. Anticipating what could be hard ahead of time helps.
Considering strategies to manage the feelings that creates can be useful
(breaks, useful thoughts, what to say, alternative actions, etc)
Noticing the inner responses whilst doing the outer task is useful too
(and children need parents to read their face/body/non-verbal gestures to
help them read what is occuring on the inside as they may not yet have
Reviewing the process later to see what worked and what did not helps the
child ‘file’ the information for next time and build a sense of coping
When upset occurs….
Call it big feeling not a tantrum
put the attention on why not on how badly they are expressing it
that feeling is coming up
Accept that feeling is present without trying to control it
Work with the feeling not aiming to switch it off but working out what
finding actions and words else they can do that is more acceptable
that might help
Understand that it is human not judging them as wrong
to have feelings
Notice small ‘help yourself’s not focusing on shouting, tears, rudeness,
In what the child does storming offs, inappropriate reactions
(such as moving away, so they
don’t hurt others, recovering
letting go of blame afterwards,
Later try to learn from this not simply hope it does not happen again
Allow that this takes time and don't make them feel alone in this
RE-SETTING after upset is much better than regretting it….smile, start again
There is always a process to emotional reactions
Enable children in…
Noticing feelings building and finding words for them
Seeing the small resistance and panic that wants to stop that happening, escape them, turn them towards others in blame. And encourage children to take responsibility for the fact that they are there, regardless of how or who put them there
Notice what occurs instinctively to cope – run away, switch to something nice, argue back, cry, etc and simply feedback they are doing these things because of the feeling inside (because they will believe it is because of the homework, the sister, the rule, the ‘not allowed’, etc
Be aware of any judgment around feelings - that the child has or you might impose, don't make it worse by trying to switch this off, just accept that those judgments might be adding to the situation
Use the emotional energy is some way - rather than getting the child to switch off the emotion, or figure out ways the child can do something that helps themselves in that moment (with the feeling not the external stimulli)
Watch, or encourage the child to be aware of when the feeling starts to subside
So that they can switch to a more neutral activity (such as getting a drink, having a hug, washing hands) before returning to a sort of ‘start again’ place.
Dont dwell on what happened during the upset, even if it felt dis-respectful or damaging, switch to honoring that it is over and its triggers can be useful – later – to have a quick chat about
The basic message here is that
…..feelings are not bad
…..the adult can be be expected to fix them, or the circumstances that created them
….the child has a responsibility, supported by the adult, to mange their way through
……and that learning to do this creates strength and the ability to
lean into frustration on future occasions – which will ultimatley help in learning and life
Because trying to switch off or fix feelings increases avoidant behavior
and journeying with them increases self motivation, self calm and self support