Watch Dr. Sylvia describe some of the most common ways that parents try to comfort their kids and the possible long term emotional consequences - click here.
Every parent has done it. When our children experience anxiety, anger, or sadness, we swoop in to save the day and hopefully make them feel better. However, many parents use strategies that can actually increase negative feelings and set their children up for a lifetime of pessimistic thoughts, anxiety, and depression.
Here are three very common, but potentially damaging ways to rescue your child from negative feelings:
“I Think You’re The Best”
If they think they’re stupid, we say they’re smart. If they sat out the big game on the bench, we say they were the best athlete on the field. Sometimes, we lie to our kids and present them with a false reality to make them feel better in the moment. However, we aren’t fooling anyone, especially our kids. They know what we’re doing and they tend to resent it. Now they not only feel sad or angry about the situation, they’re mad at you too. We should tell our kids the truth and hopefully turn a temporary frustration into an opportunity for masterful action. If they failed the test, encourage them to study harder next time and you can work on practice problems together. It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s that they have a temporary problem with an easy solution.
“Let Me Do It For You”
We’ve all felt the urge to swoop in and help our kids work on a project, especially if they are having a difficult time. However, some parents go too far and try to make their child feel better by taking over the project entirely. The project may turn out wonderfully, but you’ve planted a dangerous belief in your child’s mind - “If I start to get frustrated or bored, give up and let someone else do it for me.” There is nothing wrong with your child experiencing negative feelings. The important thing is how they think about and recover from setbacks and frustrations. Instead of taking over the project, try to talk to your child about what they are feeling and why they feel that way. Talking to your child about how to overcome failure and bounce back from frustration is one of the best things you can ever teach them.
“Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself”
One of the most important things you can teach your child is how to frame and interpret events in their life. Most parents don’t know what to say to their kids when they are upset, and they often use temporary distractions to make their child feel better in the moment. But ice cream and video games can only go so far. Parents need to get in the habit of disputing their child’s negative thoughts. They need to teach their child how to fight back against the negative thoughts that can take over their mind. A failing grade becomes “I’m just a dummy.” A failed social situation becomes “I’m a loser.” Teach your child that their problems are temporary and almost always have an easy solution.
Many children are their own worst enemy and regularly tear themselves down with negative thinking. Pessimistic children tend to give up and let life pass them by. Interventions, like these cognitive techniques, early in life can prepare your child for a life of optimism and perseverance. Success usually requires hard work and dedication, and your child will be ready to bounce back from any set back and overcome any obstacle.
"The Optimistic Child" by Dr. Martin Seligman