Anxiety Monkey on my Back.
I get asked "how can I help my kid?" all of the time. When I take the stance that what we do as parents matters, I’m not looking to blame…quite the opposite. I want to empower you. You, parent, matter SO MUCH. Children copy us, they do. We are wired to learn by observation and then trying it out for ourselves. What are we showing our child with words and actions when we.....mess up, lose our place in line, get lost, get a flat tire, lock the keys in the car, or lose our luggage? What about running late to an appointment, when a server drops something, when we feel slighted, or INSERT ANY FRUSTRATION HERE? The goal is not to suppress our emotions completely, but to consciously model problem solving and the ability to stop, assess, and plan even when we’re feeling not sure.
With our children, when empathy becomes our "go to" response, our child learns that emotions may not feel good, but they're not dangerous, so s/he accepts and processes them as they come up, instead of stuffing them, where they get uglier.
Remember, worry wants certainty, so normalizing the unpredictable parts of life supports flexibility and problem solving, which is what we want to instill for our growing adults.
Try offering a realistic approach to the problem (not a Pollyanna style/overly positive or optimistic answer), help them identify specifically what upset them, as always model positive and realistic self talk. Let them hear you (whether real or a made up example) non-anxious/angry coping and working through the problem. Correct yourself if you do begin to engage in negative self talk (Say you burn something and yell in frustration, “I’m a terrible cook!” Continue the conversation in front of them with something like “actually, I’m a pretty good cook most of the time, I just messed up this dish but I’m not going to let that stop me from cooking in the future.”
Some "simple" steps, listen and validate your kid's feelings. As mentioned above (it is worth the repetition), when empathy becomes our "go to" response, our child learns that emotions may not feel good, but they're not dangerous. They can survive them. S/he knows someone understands, which makes them feel just a bit better, so s/he's more likely to cooperate. S/he doesn't have to yell to be heard. And when our support helps him/her learn that s/he can live through bad feelings and be ok, s/he begins to develop resilience.
I have two children aged 10 & 12, and I will share what I do with them and you may want to incorporate in your conversations with yours. When they talk to me about an issue/problem at school/a kerfuffle/feelings/disappointments/etc, I first and foremost empathize and reflect what they are saying to me. "You were hoping for something else to happen", "you really like him/her and feel hurt", "you felt like you weren't being listened to", "you felt that was unfair". After that I listen, just listen. When they have communicated their feelings/thoughts (and I've had to sit on my tongue so I don't interrupt), I ask them my THREE OPTIONS- 1. Did you want to just VENT, 2. Did you want me to help you problem solve?, or 3. Did you want me to talk to another adult (teacher, principal, parent) about this? They will always give me one of these three answers. The trick is that if they give you one and you were hoping for another, you'll have to be ok with it. This is teaching your child that they are autonomous and that they can do hard things. Is this easy for a parent? H-E-double hockey sticks NO. But, you too can do hard things, fellow parent.
We can't keep bad stuff from happening, but we CAN role model how to feel them and then roll with the punches.