What if we stopped helping kids out of their struggles and started helping kids tolerate staying in their struggles? And.. why? Isn’t our job as parents to help our kids get “to the other side” of things – from not be able to do something to being able to do something, from negative attitude to positive attitude, from frustration to calm?

Yes and no. Let me start with the No first, because it’s easier: We don’t need to help our kids get to a different place than where they are at right now as much as we need to help our kids tolerate and regulate at their current location. I really mean that.

Now here’s the Yes, and there’s an irony here. When any of us are able to approach “where we are now” with compassion, tolerance, and a feeling of good-enough-ness… well, our distress releases a bit and allows us to travel down the road to a new location.

The more we connect to our kids’ struggles with allowing and understanding, the more they are able to regulate and find their own internal resources to get themselves to “the other side.” Ok let’s get concrete because even I am thinking, “Ok Becky, be more practical here.”

Your younger child is struggling to put his socks on by himself. First take a deep breath (it’s the start of all good things), then connect: “Getting socks on is SO tricky! Doing new things feels so hard. You’re so brave.” Model your own struggle with socks and some regulation skills (“Ugh, I’m having a hard time too! Ok… deep breath… keep trying… keep trying…”).

Your older child says he can’t figure out his math assignment. Take a deep breath in his presence and then connect: “Let’s take a moment. This problem is tricky. You are doing it right if it feels hard – things feeling hard are a sign that our brain is really working, not a sign of not understanding. Let’s remind your body of that.” If your child is still stuck, maybe offer, “I wonder if you can tell me everything you *do* know about this problem. Let’s start there.”

We want our kids’ to associate us with being in their tough times with them. This association both strengthens our relationship with our child and helps a child build resilience. Pretty good bang-for-your-buck.

Try This at Home:

Here is an example of Connecting, not Fixing. Read it through and, if it resonates, see if you can have a similar conversation in your home this week:

Child: “I won’t bike with Jack ever again. He’s faster than me.”

Parent: “This sounds important. I’m so glad you’re talking to me about this.”

Child: “I hate biking with him.”

Parent: “He goes faster, and that feels bad. Tell me more.”

Child: “Next time he asks me to bike with him, I’m saying no!”

Parent: “You love being with Jack …and also it feels bad for him to bike faster. That’s tricky.”

Child: “Yeah, it is.”

Parent: “Hm… I know you’ll figure it out. You two are so good at finding solutions.”

Result: Child feels understood, regulated and more able to problem solve; associates parent as someone he can talk to about tricky situations.

 

Lets compare that with different versions of this conversation that fix, don’t connect:

Child: “I won’t bike with Jack ever again. He’s faster than me.”

Parent: “You’re great! You should just focus on yourself.”

Result: Child learns to look for simple fixes to struggles; missed opportunity to build tolerance for complex emotions.

 

Child: “I won’t bike with Jack ever again. He’s faster than me.”

Parent: “I’ll talk to him and make sure he bikes at your pace.”

Result: Child underestimates ability to cope and problem solve.

 

Child: “I won’t bike with Jack ever again. He’s faster than me!”

Parent: “You won’t bike again just because he’s faster? That’s a ridiculous thing to say.”

Result: Child feels judged and alone; these feelings will likely later surface as a meltdown, rudeness, not listening. Over time, child will stop going to parent with tricky situations.