Grappling With Your Child’s Unhappiness
- May 7, 2015
- by Melissa Lawrence
Hello everyone. Today’s blog is the third in my Reflection Thursdays series. In this series, I’ll be writing about happiness, wellness, motivation, peace of mind and other good things that I’ve been striving to achieve. I hope you will tune in and help me think about these issues, and weigh in with your thoughts!! Welcome back to Reflection Thursdays and here’s my third post!! xoxo Melissa
It’s easy to know what to say and do when things are going well with your kid. During school performances, a birthday party, or a soccer game when your child has just scored a goal and is ripping across the field like Neymar.
Much harder is knowing what to say and do — and how to think about things — when your child is unhappy about something.
I’m not talking about the type of momentary unhappiness that kids get when someone grabs their seat at the table or steals their crayon.
Rather, I’m talking about painful experiences that kids go through just as we adults do. Things like: having another kid or a group of kids be mean to you, not making a team, not getting invited to a birthday party, getting a bad grade, being disciplined by a coach or teacher, feeling unpopular, feeling like they’re not smart or athletic or musical, or any of the other things that kids go through all the time.
Or how about just feeling unhappy. A friend’s daughter seemed very down lately and my friend asked her what was wrong: “I just don’t feel like I’m good at anything,” she said. While it’s not necessarily one of the signs of depression in children to feel this way; as a parent, it can be a pretty hard thing to respond to.
For me, a deep sense of sorrow, frustration and stress sets in when one of my kids is unhappy. I panic, and I worry. I try not to show that I am concerned, but I am. I love the expression “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child” because we parents truly cannot be happy if our children are not.
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Unhappy moments are so painful for me that I’ve decided to try to examine them and think about how to make them endurable, teachable moments.
In this new series, I’ve talked about being in the moment, savoring the NOW, soaking up what is happening in front of our eyes.
But when you are confronted with your child’s unhappiness, for me something else is called for.
Rather than absorb the moment, what helps me is to look at the moment as one of many in the course of a lifetime, and to make a plan.
I’ve always found solace in practicality. I am the kind of person who loves order. Ask me to iron a pile of napkins? I’m thrilled. I find tremendous relief in cleaning out closets and throwing away old things. Mess and disorder make me stressed. Having a clear sense of what to do reassures me, calms me down, gives me purpose, and reduces my anxiety.
There is no magic potion for curing your child’s unhappiness and of course each situation calls for a different response from we parents, but here is an example of what works for me.
I try to talk to my child about how he’s feeling and get as much information out of him as possible. Then, along with him, I try to hatch a plan. I don’t DENY his unhappiness because I want my kids to be in touch with their emotions, but I try to point out how much we learn from our mistakes and failings, and how strong and wise they make us.
Then, I list a few practical things we can do. Problem solving for kids can be tough, but we do what we ca. A classmate has been mean? Let’s talk about how to handle a bully and focus in on some different people. My child didn’t make the A soccer team? We talk about how we are just getting going, and that there’s time to move up, and how we can practice our skills. My child messed up on his song in the piano recital after practicing it for a full year? There will be other recitals, and no one noticed anyway. Plus we have plenty of time to keep practicing and getting better.
As we talk, one of the worse elements of unhappiness melts away: isolation. So often when we are unhappy, we don’t think we can talk to anyone about it because there is a stigma attached. What do you say when someone says “Hi, how are you”? Do you respond: “Had a horrible day?” Unlikely. In society, we are called upon to smile and walk around as if everything is glorious even when sometimes we feel inside like things are falling apart.
But by talking to my child, reflecting on the not so optimal thing he has gone through, and planning out how we are going to get through it, my heart aches a little less. I feel united with him, and usually he is hugging me. We share the moment as a team armed with our strategic thinking and buttressed by our love.
Life is process and we are never AT where we want to be. But I’m realizing that part of creating a positive parent child relationship is dealing with all things, good or bad, that are bound to come up. When you realize that you can gain from unhappy moments — and even get closer to your child during them — you feel less unhappy. You’re almost glad they happened!
So when your child is down and out, don’t try to just cheer them up or lift their spirits. Talk to them about how they are feeling, go over it, and then make a plan together. And if your child won’t talk, just stay there, ready to listen. Be there with him.
Even as parents, I truly believe that we learn something new every day.
Sit, wait, cry, talk, listen, bond, plan, laugh and live it together.
Then, your unhappiness can turn into closeness, which is a beautiful thing between a parent and child.
Thanks for reading!