Family / Parenting

Parenting Everyday Heartbreak

IMG_5702aThere are hard things that happen to kids–bullying and playground fights and violence. There are times of transition–divorces and separations, the death of a loved one. There are significant struggles–learning differences and mental and physical health issues. Most parents, when faced with these big things, know what to do and say to help their kids through them but what about the everyday heartbreak?

There are so many small moments in a kid’s day that hurt them or wear them down–trouble with friends, a teacher’s disappointment, confusing school work, awkward moments in gym or on the playground.

Do we give those small moments the same amount of attention?

Sometimes we do and sometimes, we are so carried along by the rush of life that we react without thinking. We give a quick hug and a few words of sympathy and then get right back to the details of daily life because there are errands to run and rooms to clean and homework to do and meals to make.

Last night, our daughter came home and we told her to clean her room and she refused, yelling and slamming her bedroom door. We insisted and took away her iPad and then left to go on a walk, telling her to clean her room while we were gone and leaving her to seethe. When we came home, she was sitting on the couch crying while our son talked to her and consoled her. He gave her a hug and went to his room and I sat down next to her and my partner sat down across from her and we asked what was wrong.

She was upset because a girl at school had invited her to do something and then changed her mind. She was heartbroken.

The conversation served as a reminder that even though these situations are small in the scheme of things, they are big in the hearts and minds of our kids. So, I thought I’d share my tips for parenting everyday heartbreak and remind myself in the process.

1. Be patient. Sit with your kid and wait. I have a tendency to bombard my kids with questions so this has been a learned skill for me. They will talk about it when they are ready. Kids don’t have control over much in their lives–let them control the conversation.

2. Stay in the moment. Focus on your kid and ignore all of the responsibilities tugging at you and taking your attention elsewhere. Stay close physically and emotionally.

3. Resist the urge to fix. As parents, our first instinct is to fix things for our kids because we want to make everything better. But the reality of life is that we can’t always fix things. We shouldn’t minimize their feelings or insist they see the bigger context or tell them all the things they could have done differently. We need to keep it simple–“I’m sorry that happened. I can see how much it hurt you.” We have to sit with the discomfort of their struggle and be present with them.

4. Don’t project. Our kids will experience things that we did as kids but their experience is their own. As a kid, I often felt like an outsider so any time my kids struggle socially, it triggers those old feelings inside me. If I’m not careful, I react to the situation from my perspective instead of meeting them in theirs. In other words, be aware of your own stuff and deal with it. Don’t get emotionally tangled in the situation. If you can’t do this, hand off the situation to another trusted adult. Last night, I deferred to my partner who was able to be much more objective than me.

5. Give them hope. As Harvey Milk said, “You have to give them hope.” When they’ve said everything there is to say and you have listened and loved them up, end with something positive whether it’s a compliment on how they handled the situation or praise for talking to you about it.

Though our conversation last night came after a disagreement and tears, we were able to find our way back to these basics and change the course of the evening.

PHOTO CREDIT: VIKKI REICH

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2 Comments

  1. Dylan Flunker says:

    Thanks for sharing! It really is helpful to hear about how other parents are navigating supporting their kids.
    My kid isn’t four yet, but I already struggle with don’t project.
    Even with a three year old it’s amazing the depth of emotion my kid has when something is upsetting.

  2. You know what’s hardest to beat down? THat urge to fly over to the offender’s house. YUP. someone hide the van keys, please.

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