As parents, most of us feel it our duty to protect our children from harm. We can, and should, take all precautionary measures to prevent injury to our children and teach them safety practices and self care. However, protecting them from the natural ebb and flow of life can leave them ill equipped to successfully manage adversity, loss, failure, conflict or disappointment.

Like it or not, life is not always predictable or smooth. In fact, the one thing that is predictable is that life will be a roller coaster of ups and downs, highs and lows, calm and storm. Life presents problems, obstacles, pain, and even tragedy that we cannot plan for or strategize to minimize. Many of us are beings who like to have at least a modicum of control over our lives. The reality is the only thing we have absolute control over is how we respond to what life serves up.

When we solve our children’s problems for them, keep them constantly entertained so they don’t complain of boredom, or never let them lose, we are missing perfect opportunities to teach them how to stand up for themselves, find creative and productive means to get their own needs met, and how to manage disappointment, frustration and conflict.

Most feel it a duty to teach our children responsibility. We also need to teach our children response-ability. When we consistently become our child’s rescuer or protector we may be setting them up to attach themselves to the role of victim. We can, and should, provide our children with as many tools as possible to deal with all that life has to offer.

Our task then is not to shelter our children from the down-side of life, but rather to guide and coach them through adversity and challenge by exploring a healthy selection of coping strategies and problem solving skills. As your child’s coach, you become their ally and advocate while giving them the power to struggle which strengthens their ability to effectively manage their emotions, behaviors, and perceptions. The beauty is the outcome of the struggle doesn’t matter half as much as the experience itself. Remember, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”. Just allowing your child to play the full game of life will assist them in developing a strong character, greater confidence, and a more positive view of self.

Try the following suggestions the next time your child is struggling. You may be amazed at how adept he/she already is in managing response-ability.

1. Listen to Understand. When life presents a struggle for your child, curb your own need to protect, shelter, or solve. Listen to your child on multiple levels: what is the underlying theme(s) of what they are saying; what are they not saying; what does their body language tell you; what does the pitch and tone of their voice tell you? Assess their perceptions, emotions, and reactions to the situation. Ask questions like: “What do you think is going on?” “How is this making you feel?” Then reflect back what you heard and observed. For example, “Seeing Grandma so sick is sad and makes you feel a little scared that she might die.” Reflective listening helps you and your child gain a full understanding of the nature and impact of the struggle. This does not mean that you experience the same emotion as your child. To be helpful, all that’s needed is for you to accurately convey your understanding of their experience.

2. Validate Their Experience. Whatever the child is experiencing, the message to convey to your child is one of acceptance. Acceptance does not mean approval any more than it means disapproval. In order to help your child through difficult situations, the parent must develop the capacity to project their self into the child’s world, not impose meaning on that experience from the outside. Avoid telling your child what they should be thinking and how they should be feeling. Respect and acceptance is essential for your child’s growth and self-esteem.

3. Create Options and Possibilities: Bring your child into the problem solving process. Suggest each of you come up with some ideas that will help them manage the situation. There are no right or wrong ideas. The bigger the list the more hopeful the child will become that there are many ways to get through a difficult situation. After the list has been compiled, you and child can explore the pros & cons of each idea. For example, the possible option of “Never going back to see Grandma” is an understandable thought; however, avoiding the issue is a lower-level coping strategy. The goal is to compile a myriad of possibilities and then guide your child to choose an option that will promote the best possible outcome or coping strategy for the given situation.

4. Role Play: Trying on new roles can change perception. This can be particularly useful if there are conflicts in a relationship. Seeing both sides of the issue can bring clarity and understanding needed for a healthy resolution and can work well with sibling rivalry. Have your children reverse roles and play the part of the other. Or, you play the role of your child, and have your child play the role of a friend your child is having difficulty with. This is a great way for your child to experience first hand what “part they are playing” in the problem.

Your child will effectively and successfully navigate almost any struggle if you:
Listen so they know you truly understand;
Accept and Validate their personal experience;
Assist them to Create Options and possibilities;
and Play to expand their perceptions;
all to promote new levels of Response-ability.

Author's Bio: 

Forrest Samnik, MSW, LCSW, EFT Cert-I is a psychotherapist and life coach with a private practice in Palm Harbor, Florida. For questions or comments call LifeWorks Counseling & Coaching at (727) 781-6567.