Strategies for Teaching Children to Find Comfort in Discomfort

resilient-childThe importance of teaching children to tolerate discomfort in childhood is to help them become well adjusted, more resilient adults.

Everyone aims to be comfortable but the ultimate goal is to be comfortable even when circumstances are uncomfortable. We’ve all seen people who appear comfortable even in the most difficult circumstances and wonder how they got to be that way. These people almost seem to enjoy being uncomfortable, right? In reality they don’t enjoy it but they have learned to endure discomfort with grace.

Today, despite advances in technology and medicine, there are more anxious and less confident children with more parental involvement at older and older ages. These parents are known as the so called “Helicopter Parents” of this generation. Children of the “Heli parents” are at risk for never learning to make peace with discomfort, a scary thought given that so much of life is painful.

Rob Lowe’s autobiography, “Stories I Only Tell My Friends,” is a great and entertaining read that touches on the issue of children adjusting to and transcending childhood pain. He describes a childhood in which he is alone and faced with many discomforts, such as his parents’ multiple divorces, his mother’s chronic illness, and multiple losses to list a few. But the resounding message of the story is his resilience.

He was certainly not coddled as a child and he is not shy about presenting himself as an ambitious 10 year old boy with a drive to become a successful actor. His parents were not invested either way in his achievements. They drove him when they could and paid what they could afford, but they did not confuse his ambition and determination with their needs for his success. In other words they were appropriately involved and supportive.

Lowe’s story is a magnificent case study of a child with a sense of internal purpose that, despite his family dysfunction, learned internal resilience to overcome flaws and setbacks as an adult. I can’t help wonder it if his parents’ ability to promote his independence from a young age contributed to his ability to create the life he wanted as an adult. Helicopter parents tend to hijack their child’s internal sense of ability, purpose and passion, resulting in a child who feels incompetent and unable to own his actions and feel in control of his life.

The aspect of Lowe’s story that is most astounding when I compare it to the children I work with today is that he never questioned his own resourcefulness when it came to meeting his goals. For example, he never thought, “If only my parents did more for me I could have …” His ownership over his successes and failures is what so many children and young adults lack.

Rob Lowe’s story is not a paragon of perfection and openly describes his struggles with addiction. Rob does not allow his addiction to define him; instead he celebrated his 25th year of sobriety in May 2015. And for all his parents’ failures he never blames them, but rather uses his early childhood and family experiences to teach him to embrace his discomfort.

Here are eight strategies for parents teaching kids to tolerate discomfort.

1. Be an authority. Kids need a person who can make decisions in their best interest. They will learn to trust their parents which in turn will allow them to learn self-trust.

2. Teach acceptance of disapproval. Not every authority will be kind and nice to a child. The sooner children accept this, the better off they will be.

3. Parents are not friends. Parents won’t be valued as a child’s friend and in fact this detracts from the parent-child bond. The parent should empower their child to be independent and make smart decisions without befriending them.

4. Use failure as a teaching tool. When your tween or teen fails at something, use it to learn how to respond to disappointment.

5. Accept emotions. It’s never okay for parents to tell child not to feel a certain way. The trick is teaching kids how they should react to their emotions and to accept their discomfort.

6. Quit pretending. When a child has challenges, such as having no friends, recognize that they have a problem and empower them to act differently to change it.

7. Look for opportunity in adversity. When your children have to sit on the bench during a game or make the “B” team when they hoped for the “A” team, empower them to take control and make a positive change.

8. Teach children to look inside. Children need to learn that they are their own best resource. Children who self-sooth when they are uncomfortable cope much more effectively than those who blame others and feel no sense of internal control over negative situations and emotions.

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