dealing with tough times
Bad stuff happens to our kids every day. Wise parents don’t go to extraordinary means to protect kids from life, but rather they help their children manage minor frustrations or major traumas. These are the ways I approach these kids in my office.
- This will pass. Youngsters often think that the intense emotional pain they feel today will continue forever. Adults know that both good and bad times are transitory. It’s hard to explain that to kids, who may feel that you are discounting their feelings.
- Avoid misattribution. In trying to make sense of their parents’ divorce or being rejected from a basketball team, youngsters often come up with some very weird and inaccurate explanations. They may blame themselves or some irrelevant or random event. It’s difficult for kids to understand that the reasons why things occur are often unknown, and unknowable.
- Get on with your life. People come to my office wanting to talk about what happened yesterday. That is only the first step in our journey, not the purpose of therapy. I work hard with youngsters to help them understand past events, but then to turn the page in your book of life. You can’t write a new chapter if you are stuck recounting past events. Sometimes it’s best to stop talking about yesterday, and instead enjoy today and plan for tomorrow.
- Reflect on what you’ve learn. A preteen told me she was incredibly hurt that she wasn’t invited to a sleepover at a friend’s house. I asked her to write down three things she wished she could have done differently in interactions with that person. She realized that she had said some pretty mean things to that other child. Bad events can often be messages to us if we are receptive enough to listen carefully.
- Stay connected with people you love. In times of trouble, it’s our relationships with others that provide relief, humor, and love. Whether it’s failing an important exam or not getting into your dream college, I redirect kids back to moms, dads, relatives, and friends who surround them with a loving presence.
- Does this really matter? What feels so intensely important today is often insignificant when viewed in a broader context. With older kids, I ask them to fast forward their lives a few years and reflect on the relative importance of their current perceived trauma. Learning how to emotionally distance oneself from painful experiences is a powerful technique to gain some control over our lives.
It’s not helpful to lament life’s tough times. We often have little influence over what happens, but lots of control over how we respond.