(Written several weeks ago)
Life happens folks. And it’s happening bigtime for me these days. And by happening, I don’t mean in a good, fun way. I mean the tough stuff. The stuff that challenges everything you know to be true. The stuff that tests your faith and piles up conflicting emotions like a Jenga tower waiting to tumble. The stuff you can’t do much about and yet you have to deal with each day. The things that happen to a lot of us, at some point. Thoroughly confused? I thought so. My cryptic and vague wording is by choice–I believe in sharing but I also believe in not oversharing and being more specific doesn’t lend to making my point. For the record, I am fine. I’m basically just trying to say, life just got more challenging and that’s what happens sometimes. Life can be hard and then sometimes it gets even harder.
As an adult, I’ve been through enough to know how to plow through, keep the faith, trust the universe, learn from it all, and focus on what I can control. But it’s made me wonder–how can I prepare my children to cope? Having key coping skills is an obvious necessity in life but we very rarely talk about it in specific terms with children. Heck, it’s not always clear even for adults. Learning to cope is part of the journey of life and it often evolves right alongside it. That said, this has to be one of the most important parenting responsibilities aside from keeping them alive and healthy. The ability to cope not only has significant mental health implications but also, it’s what can make or break a happy and productive life because, as we all know, life happens. What can I arm my kids with now? How do I prepare my children for the inevitable times when life happens?
As parents, we shield our children from pain and failure but often these things are the best ways children learn to successfully cope. But to what degree do we let our child fail or experience pain? How do we know when they’ve really learned? Every kid is different so figuring this out varies by family. But one thing parents can do immediately is to talk with their children about feelings from an early age. Help children learn the right words for what they are experiencing and then intentionally talk about how best to cope, what that can look like, what has worked and what has not. Helping our children become emotionally aware and learning to vocalize feelings is a great first step.
There’s a lot of research and plenty of articles on the subject and most of it is all good information. But we have to become more intentional and proactive about teaching children how to cope. We can’t just wait for life to throw a teachable moment our way (even though that is always helpful). We have to talk openly about challenges, let them see us struggle, be frustrated, conflicted, defeated, or sad. Then, we have to let them see us figure it all out and keep living a happy, productive life. Throughout it all, we have to make sure we are talking to them about what they’re witnessing in specific terminology and with words they understand. I’ll never forget scolding my son a few times for not being respectful. Several months later, while fussing at him again for the same thing, he finally asked what I meant by respectful. Helping children understand the big concept of coping includes using the simplest words or phrases they might know.
We can’t explore how best to make sure children learn to cope without acknowledging the importance of seeking professional help when needed. There’s no rule that says you have to know how to deal with stuff all by yourself. When in need, there is no shame in asking for help. It’s always a good idea to have someone in your corner, to give you solid advice and help you think through life and its various ups and downs. Who doesn’t need to hear from a personal cheerleader and a supportive member of your personal fan club? Sure friends and family can be great resources for a lot of this but there is something unique about confiding in someone whose sole purpose is to provide unbiased support to make your life better. Intentionally talking with children from a young age about possibly having a “feelings coach” can set the tone of it being okay to reach out for help.
My family has just started using an easy, comprehensive app called “Calm” to allow us to process our day and to help us all decompress in the evening before bed. It makes us regroup as a family, helps put the pace of life in its place, and reminds us that we have to take care of ourselves, including our ability to process and handle challenges. It’s only been 5 days but so far, it’s been great particularly for our youngest who naturally fights going to bed.
Whether it’s meditating, becoming involved in hobbies like cooking, gardening, playing a sport, just keeping busy or seeking professional help, it’s crucial that we help children learn how to figure out what they need to cope in life, particularly when it gets hard. Like most things, if you’re a parent, this starts with you.