My daughter walked through the door, plopped down at the kitchen table and started to open up. She recounted an experience she’d had at school that afternoon that had hurt her feelings. She was sad, hurt, and needed to talk about it. The next day, my son told me about a situation in which his feelings had been hurt by a rude remark from a friend.
First, I felt grateful that our children are open with us, and know they can come to us with all of their feelings. We’ve worked hard to make our home a place where it is okay to have and exhibit feelings and emotions. However, I quickly felt the heat start to rise. When our children have been hurt, the “mama bear” instinct flips on. BUT, in these moments, we have such an incredible opportunity to teach our children. Anger and frustration can so quickly destroy a teachable moment and an opportunity to develop character.
If I had responded the way that came naturally, I would have taught her that we respond to hurt with hurt. It’s often our first response. If we’re cut-off on the road, we shoot off a “stupid!” about the driver. If we’re inconvenienced, we glare, mutter, or give a rude remark. If someone hurts our feelings, we hurt them back. Retribution is second nature to so many.
In that moment, I understood that my child needed guidance, direction, and strategies. She needed to be shown how to handle the situation. It would have been easy for me to respond in anger – teaching my child that we deal with hurt with hurt. How I wanted to respond, and how I chose to respond were very different. Our children are counting on us to make that distinction – to turn on our filters, and parent them – leading them towards the moral principles we’ve decided should govern our family.
1. Build them Back Up
First, I sought to encourage my children. I wanted them to know that they are loved, valuable, and of great worth – regardless of any words or hurtful actions against them. I wanted my children to know that I am their champion and biggest fan – ready to love and accept them, no matter what. Kindness diffuses anger and calms the soul. My children needed encouragement.
2. Check Their Emotions
I wanted to check in with my children to see how and what they were feeling. I wanted to know how they were feeling so I could validate their emotions AND know how to instruct them to handle their feelings. I also wanted to gauge the intensity of the situation. If my child wasn’t feeling all that upset, the last thing to do would be to blow it out of proportion.
I want my children to be able to name and identify their emotions, and have strategies in place to work through them. So often, children are taught to stuff or suppress their emotions and/or are expected to handle their emotions on their own. A young child is not going to know how to work through feelings of rage, jealousy, sadness, elation, frustration,etc. As parents, we MUST instruct our children how to responsibly, safely, and lovingly work through their emotions now, so they will become successful adults later.
3. Next Steps
Children need leadership and direction. They need guidance, strategies, and tools for problem-solving. I want my children to be confident, self-reliant problem-solvers who know how to work through life’s problems. In order for that to happen, my children need to be taught how to respond. We talked through the situations and I was able to provide my children with strategies for how to handle them, should they come up again. We worked through what to say to their friends (should they choose to do so), and how to respond to those who have hurt us in a loving and Christ-like way. We have to equip our children and teach them to become independent problem-solvers. Throughout our life, people will hurt us. We’ll fail. We’ll get upset. I want my children to have the courage, confidence, and tools to be able to work through those situations on their own in a successful and loving way. I don’t want them to seek a rescuer in those moments – I want them to know who they are, have the maturity to work through their emotions, and say with confidence, “I’ve got this.”
To raise strong, confident, capable children, we must parent them in that way. We have to provide them with tools and strategies to work through life’s hurts and disappointments. We have to teach them how to respond and what to do.
My children left the kitchen table knowing they were loved, capable, and of great worth. They knew that it was okay to have emotions – that what they were feeling wasn’t wrong. They learned how to work through feelings of sadness and confusion. We talked about widening their friend pool at school, focusing on having a group of friends rather than a “best” friend, and how to make sure they never made someone feel the way they were feeling. What could have been a conversation that resulted in anger and hurtful words being said about their friend, turned into an incredible teachable moment – and an opportunity to teach our children about grace, forgiveness, and working through hurt and disappointment.
Had I responded the way I wanted to, I would have shown my children that anger is a primary emotion, and that we respond to hurt with hurt. I could have taught my children that when a friend hurts our feelings, we hurt them back, drop them, scream at their mother, or take on the attitude of a victim. Instead, I saw an opportunity for learning, teaching, and reflection.
I want to raise up children who feel loved, valued, are self-reliant, confident, conquerors. Therefore, I must guide my children towards the moral principles that will produce those results. I must parent with those values in mind. I have to check my own words, actions, and responses, and make sure I am living in accordance with the values I want my children to embody. Our children are watching, listening, and learning from our example. What we do and how we respond is how they will learn – and how they will structure their life. How we respond is how they will respond.
We will all face hurts and disappointment. Our children will get hurt. We MUST teach our children HOW to work through their emotions and express them in a responsible way. We MUST teach our children how to problem-solve, strategize, and work through life’s hurts – independently. If we want our children to behave and respond in certain ways that are in keeping with our moral principles, we have to show them how. We have to step up and parent accordingly. We have to make sure we are living in such a way that we want our children to follow our example – use our words – use our measure of grace – live the way we do.
As an example, when I went to save the first draft of this post, my platform so lovingly deleted the last 900 or so words I’d typed. I’d worked hard. It was likely written better than this draft. I had a choice. I could respond in anger. I could have responded in defeat. I could have quit. I could have screamed. Instead, I named my emotion – frustration – and went on to my next step – getting back up and trying again.
The next time your child faces a hurt or disappointment, try working through these steps with him/her. Until then, seek to live the kind of life you want your children to emulate. Our words, actions, and responses matter.