When our clinicians participate in an intake discussion with a parent, one of the level-of-care thresholds is whether the struggle is healthy and normal. Every developmental stage includes a variation of struggle by its very nature. New skills only develop when the environmental conditions necessitate them.
In the beginning, the child lacks the coping ability to manage the situation. That mismatch sparks the need for a skill that hasn’t yet formed. Game on.
The most common parenting mistake is to soothe the struggle. Fixing the issue for the child might calm the household, but it short-circuits the kid’s movement toward solving their own problem. The well-intended parent just solved it for them. Unfortunately, the struggle must happen again and, hopefully, the parent will, this time, endure the discomfort long enough to let the emerging bud burst into a flower.
It’s hard to see your child in a state of discomfort. They, in turn, experience their parents’ anxiety and a contagious exchange is then ignited. Instinct clamors for stress reduction. The wise parent embraces the trouble as a growth opportunity.
Here’s the mantra: “I know this is hard and I’m confident in your ability to handle it.” Parents need to communicate this mantra at a time when they AREN’T confident in their child’s ability to manage the situation. This is what enables the struggle to become a coping skill.
Try it. Delay your gratification. Rather than expecting immediate maturation, observe how the struggle unfolds. Savor your kid’s new acquisition. The struggle always precedes the growth.
About the Author
Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.