Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Building Resilience in Children

             Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when parents and other loving adults help children to become more resilient. The need for the rising generation cannot be overstated. Just consider the college students who need safe places from hearing a differing point of view, or think of the people who go crazy simply because they see a statue that offends them.

            Katie M. McLaughlin shared a difficult family experience: her 4-year-old son left his favorite stuffed animal in a car belonging to a friend or family member who lived in the next state. It was bedtime, and he had never gone to bed without Glenn. Her son melted into tears and began to throw a temper tantrum. He declared that he would not go to bed ever again until he had Glenn again. It was a family emergency – and all of us have been there at some time.

            Then the author remembered what she learned before becoming a parent and while providing therapy for others. She remembered “The Life-Changing Train Analogy.” She describes this analogy as follows.

Difficult feelings are tunnels, and we are trains traveling through them. We have to move all the way through the darkness to get to the – you knew this was coming! – calm, peaceful light at the end of the tunnel. It sounds simple, but it’s way easier said than done….

The problem is that we well-meaning parents and caregivers often attempt to intercept our children on their journey through an emotional tunnel….

So often when our kids are struggling with a difficult feeling – sadness, anger, fear, embarrassment, loneliness, guilt – we try to logic them out of it. We explain why they’re overeating, or how WE know it will turn out just fine in the end.

We’re trying to help our children, of course, but if we peel back the layers a bit, I think we’ll find that what we’re really doing is trying to make OURSELVES feel better. Because our children’s pain hurts US so deeply, makes US so acutely uncomfortable.
We’re the ones who want their crying to top as quickly as possible – not them.

Back to the analogy: If emotions are tunnels and we are trains going through them, then we NEED to keep moving all the way through to the other side.

What we adults often do when facing our own emotional struggles is attempt to get out of the tunnel early – banging on the sides, ignoring the cavernous echo, and wondering with confusion why we can’t see daylight yet….

Then, when we FINALLY let ourselves scream and wail and bang our fists and crumble onto the floor and have a good cry, we suddenly feel so. much. better.

Same goes for our kids. We can’t teach them there’s some secret side exit when there’s really not. There is no way out except through, and it’s our job to guide them there.

            McLaughlin says that she did not even speak to her son. She just sat next to him as he sobbed and made sure that he knew that she was with him by rubbing his back and doing other comforting things for him. He cried and cried – until he was cried out about eight minutes later. Then they were able to discuss the problem rationally. She asked her son if he “wanted to make a plan.” She acknowledged that bedtime was going to be difficult, so maybe they could do something to make it less so. Her son chose “two different stuffed animals to sleep with that night, then asked if we could read two extra books before bed to help make the evening more special.” When she finally kissed her son goodnight, he said, “I’m going to be OK tonight.”

            McLaughlin’s son was okay because his parents helped him to build resilience. She explains that resilience would not have been built if she had driven to the next state to retrieve the stuffed animal or told him over and over again that it was no big deal. By allowing his “train” to go all the way through the emotional tunnel, she sent him the message that his pain was valid. She allowed him to go through the entire experience and “then come up for air all on his own.” She then tells parents how to build resilience in their children.

So the next time your child is deeply frustrated, angry, or upset, remember what the job of a parent really is. The job of a parent is to:

. Provide comfort through the frustration.

. Draw out our child’s cleansing tears.

. Show empathy to our child’s struggle.

. Allow the life lesson to be learned naturally – not through preaching.

. Support our child’s journey through the emotional tunnel.

The job of a parent is NOT to get our child to stop crying as quickly as possible. Tears are a sign of parental success, not failure.

So rub your child’s back. Sit with them in silence. Stay alongside them as they chug chug through their tunnels of feelings. And be with them when they finally reach the calm, peaceful light at the end.

            I was really impressed when I read McLaughlin’s article. It makes sense, and it works for children of all ages! I often said that kissing the bumps and hurts of little children are much easier than healing the heartaches of teenagers and young adults. However, a parent can sit by children of all ages in silence, comfort them with backrubs, and simply be with them as they exhaust their emotions and prepare to move forward with their lives.

            When parents allow their children to move all the way through their tunnels of feelings, they are building resilience in their children. Resilient children grow into resilient teenagers and adults, and resilient adults strengthen homes, communities, and nations.

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