Somewhere along the line, parents, myself often included, fell into this false belief that our kids should always feel good. I, personally, blame the self-esteem movement. You can read more of my thoughts about that in an earlier post, but basically, the self-esteem movement (or at least how it’s been popularly interpreted and implemented) emphasizes the need to feel good about one’s self in order to be successful and live a happy-ish life.
The theory has led to this belief that for kids to feel good about themselves, then a lot of unpleasant experiences need to be eliminated. No one can lose, because they’ll have poor self-esteem. No one can win because then other kids will feel bad. Everyone should be praised for their answers, even if they are wrong. No one should feel frustrated, or bored, or disappointed.
In many parenting circles and professional mental health circles, we’ve been encouraged to let our kids be bored and frustrated and disappointed. And I totally agree. That’s where the magic happens. But, being raised up in this culture that permeates an ethos of feel-good-avoid-bad mentality and has encouraged bubble wrapping our children’s “fragile” little feelings and souls, I still find myself being pulled in to rescue my children.
Having a child with wiring that makes emotion regulation and frustration tolerance especially challenging has furthered my impulse to rescue my children. When frustration builds in that child, meltdown happens. I’ve been conditioned to regulate her and walk her out of frustration. And, at this point, she’s needed me to. But, I’ve found that I’ll then mindlessly parent my sons in the same way. In fact, when I manage their frustration, I’m really only getting in their way.
Take a day earlier this week, for example. Chimp, the 4-year-old, was playing a lego video game. He came to a puzzle that he couldn’t figure out, so he did what he does: he yelled, “Mom! Cubby! I need help!” Soon I heard his pudgy little feet stomp their way up the stairs and there he was, asking for me to help, again. Cub was in the shower and I was making lunch.
So, I said, “Sorry, Chimp. You’re on your own for this one, Cub’s in the shower and I’m making lunch.”
“But, mo-om! I weally don’t know how to do this one!”
“Sorry, bud. We can’t help right now. Go give it another shot or wait til we can help you.”
Chimp got his little pouty face on, hung his head, and went back downstairs.
Meanwhile, up in the kitchen, I’m working on lunch and a whole litany of thoughts poured through my head. Do I have time to go help him? Should I just stop what I’m doing? Poor kid, I want him to know it’s okay to ask for help. Is there going to be a meltdown? As soon as I’m done I’ll check in with him. He always gets the shaft because he’s the youngest. I want him to know he’s important. I want him to know that what he wants is important.
And, when the making of the lunch was done, I went to the top of the stairs and said, “How’s it going, buddy? Do you still need help?”
To which he responded, cheerfully and proudly, “No thanks, mom! I figured it out! All I had to do was think with my brain!”
So, the next time my pre-wired, protect my kids inner softness springs up, I need to keep reminding myself of all the things I’d be robbing them of. What do we rob our kids of when we rush to rescue?
Frustration tolerance skills
The opportunity to feel proud
Learning that difficulty doesn’t define them
Genuine feelings of self-confidence and self-compassion
Figuring out what they like, don’t like, what they’re good at, not good at
All the magic of life