Some time ago, a parent called for a phone session to talk about her aggressive eight-year old son. Over the course of our conversation, a few things became clear.
First, mom was overwhelmed by her son’s behavior. Her little boy could be as sweet as honey when life was going well for him, but when he was frustrated, he became physically aggressive to whoever was in striking distance. She was flooded by the drama of tip toeing around him.
I discovered that mom had a very difficult pregnancy, felt guilty about traveling a lot for her job, and tended to cave in to her son’s requests in order to “make him happy.” When I asked how often her son cried, she said, “Almost never.”
And therein lies at least part of the problem. I explained to this mother that children need to feel their disappointment–the weight of it, the sorrow that comes from not getting what they want–if they are to develop the muscle of resilience.
This issue–helping children adapt rather than move toward aggression when they are frustrated–is one that parents of children from babies through teens often struggle with. In fact, I use the approach I teach on myself when I am frustrated–talking myself through Denial, Anger and Bargaining into the vulnerable experience of simply being sad.
The next time your child is frustrated, notice what feelings come up for you that might move you to try to fix their problem or talk them out of their feelings. It can be painful to watch our kids struggle, but ultimately, if we can manage our feelings around their unhappiness, we become better able to support them to cope with their frustration so that they can grow into more resilient adults.