Thursday, July 07, 2016

emotions, like all things, are impermanent

When my daughter was four, she said to me, “Mommy, I’m worried.” She had tension in her voice and fear in her eyes.
Concerned, I asked, “Sweetie, what are you worried about?”
With mounting frustration, she replied, “I don’t know.”
My first instinct as a parent was to get in there and try to fix it, as if I had the power to remove the painful emotion from her body. I wanted to tell her that everything was okay and there was nothing to worry about, then make her some popcorn, put in a movie, and give her an extra snuggle.
But I knew I needed to resist my first impulse. Trying to fix kids’ feelings or distract them from their emotions doesn’t work. It can even create more problems, because it encourages kids to look to us for emotional rescue and disrupts their ability to process their feelings naturally.
So I pulled my daughter onto my lap and said, “Worry is okay, honey. Worry is a normal emotion, just like being happy, sad, and mad. I get worried too.” She didn’t seem terribly satisfied with my response, but she did accept it and she moved on.

A few days later she said, “Mommy, I am worried again.”
“What are you worried about, sweetie?” I asked.
Now more frustrated—“I DON’T KNOW!”
I continued with the same answer. “Worry is okay, it’s a normal feeling. It’s just a feeling in your body that we all have. I know worry is uncomfortable. Why don’t you give your worry a hug, like you do your doll?” She nodded. I even asked (probably due to my own worry) if there was anything she’d like me to do, and she said, “No thank you.”
It reminded me that as a parent there is nothing to do except listen and be present.

I didn’t know where this was going. No parent does. But I did know from my Buddhist studies that anxiety is a normal feeling and part of being alive in an impermanent world.

As Buddhists we may realize that emotional pain is an opportunity for awakening, but with our children we are quick to shield them from any emotional discomfort.

Emotional health means that we can be with all of our emotions without reactivity. When parents steer children toward happiness, we are on some level indicating that other emotions are not okay. Though not intentioned, this disrupts children’s natural ability to feel the normal spectrum of human emotions, which inevitably includes anger, anxiety, embarrassment, fear, and so on.

How to Raise an Emotionally Resilient Child

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