Here’s Part 5 of my parenting Q&A series. Today’s question may be one of the most fundamental I’ve received in my 18 years at this online parent education gig. Here goes…
What is the most important thing I should teach my child?
Obviously an essential part of every parent’s job is teaching your children to survive, to keep themselves safe. But I’m going to take a different tack here. My answer to your question is: Teach them to handle their distressing emotions, i.e., the emotions that throw us off-center, muck with our moral compass and interfere with clearly thinking. I’m talking about anger, jealousy, resentment, etc. Oh and let’s not forget frustration and rejection! These emotions can very easily push us over the edge. And when we go over we are much less likely to treat others with respect and sensitivity. This is the why people become violent. Why we so often hurt each other.
When we teach kids to manage their distressing emotions they are in a much better place to deal with life’s challenges. And you don’t need me to tell you there are plenty of challenges to be dealt with… at least a dozen turn up in your path every day. Emotions are like solar flares. We need the tools to regulate and rein them in.
I’m not suggesting that we teach kids to try to rush ahead of our children and clear their path of all possible obstacles. Nor should we teach them to take everything as it comes with a cheery smile, pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. No way! A more realistic and valuable approach is helping kids understand that they will be pushed to the edge at times. They can count on feeling frustrated, hurt, and angry at times. Our feelings are important, but our behavior is even more important. Our behavior in the face of really strong emotions is something we need to master. Mastery comes from practice.
So let’s give our kids lots of practice in calming down. Lots of practice in finding the words when they feel out of control. Words are very important. We need to help our kids understand that even when we feel we’re about to lose it, it is never OK, to be cruel or disrespectful to anyone. The best way to do this is to model it. Our kids give us plenty of opportunities to show what it’s like to get one’s buttons pushed. They do that to us every day! We need to show them that we know how to control ourselves so that they can learn to do it too.
I hope this helps.