A mentally healthy human being is one who knows how to effectively deal with emotions. Anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, sadness...at one time or another, these are common—and often constructive—emotions we all feel.
Too often, however, we as parents rush in to relieve these so-called “negative” emotional states in our children. This, of course, is perfectly natural. We’d do anything to protect our children from harm, hurt, or discomfort.
A better approach, however, might be teaching children how to deal with what are, after all, perfectly normal emotions. This is because, in our well-meaning attempts to shield them from emotions they will inevitably experience throughout their lives, we may ultimately teach the wrong lesson: that uncomfortable emotions are bad and should be escaped at all costs.
And those costs could lead to unhealthy coping strategies such as drugs and alcohol.
Teaching resilient skills
Instead of trying to relieve unhappy emotions, here are some strategies to try instead.
1. Define the emotion
When a child is obviously experiencing a difficult emotion, help them put into words what they’re feeling, and what caused it. Let them talk it out with you.
2. Acknowledge the emotion
Let them know that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling given the circumstances. Don’t try to negate it with reassurances: “It’ll be okay,” or “Don’t worry.” Teach them that all emotions—happy and unhappy ones—come and go, and that this too, shall pass eventually.
3. Offer ways to cope
If a child is sad, suggest they write down their feelings about what happened and why. If they’re anxious, show them how exercise can help relieve those feelings. If they’re angry, show them how to observe those feelings without getting stuck in them (also known as “mindfulness.”)
Above all, teach them the difference between momentary pain or pleasure, and the deeper happiness that comes from doing the best you can to make the right decisions throughout life.