I recently found myself in a meeting with a fairly large group of people meeting with a parent to discuss the pretty difficult behavior of a child with whom we were all concerned. Heartbroken, the parent with face in cupped hands said, “I just want to make sure my children are comfortable…I don’t want them to be uncomfortable.” AHHH, it makes me hurt to even tell the story.
What happened was, along the years, the parent had done just that. However, as the weeks and years passed, the work to keep the kids comfy had become more difficult. It became harder and harder. The children learned to have a paper-thin frustration tolerance and to react stronger and stronger each time something did not go their way.
At the moment of discomfort (which came quicker and quicker and more often), their protests and anger were soothed and comforted either with nurturing and attention, access to some ridiculously simple tangible item (e.g. a pair of shoes, a piece of paper, a pencil), or escape from something or someone they did not like (e.g. a store, nearby peer or sibling, homework, etc.).
The meeting continued as we all hovered around the problem. Some in the room became a bit uncomfortable when one of the professionals mentioned (paraphrasing), “your child is going to experience discomfort and you don’t need to interfere with that discomfort. It is reality. You cannot continue to save your child from discomfort. It is not working.”
She was right. Could not have been more correct.
Then she said something that was pretty incredible: “we need to figure out why you do this. There is some reason you continue to do this.”
Her point was right on target. Lets look at this story from both perspectives. The kids’ screaming, protesting and anger was functional in accessing comfort in any of the forms mentioned above. Not good. Let’s face it: we all live around people with similar behavior. It’s not a pretty or a redeeming quality.
As for the parent, the “comforting” behavior was functional in that it preserved FOR THE MOMENT AND FOR THE MOMENT ONLY peace and “happiness” amongst the children. The opportunities to do this were only becoming more frequent. The unfortunate side effect of this was children who were more and more difficult to keep happy.
Here is the point:
Children will experience frustration, pain, anger, sadness, disappointment: discomfort. You can’t stop that, not should you in many cases. You can teach them how to handle it. You can teach them how to respond to those feelings and how to get through them.
When these times occur, and they will (today), think for a moment about this and take the opportunity to teach your child to handle these situations effectively.