My Son Experienced a Hardship
Last night my young son was very disappointed that his practical joke was discovered before he pull it off. He was devastated, in fact, and ran sobbing to his room.
Why His Response To Hardship Is Important
To a parent’s eyes, this hurt may seem like harmless childhood pettiness with nothing to be done about, but in fact his responses to situations like these are forming lifelong habits of how he will react to disappointment. In the future, when things don’t go as planned, will he run to his room sobbing, brooding, and believing that things can’t improve? Or will he be optimistic and plan a way to pull off his endeavors better the next time around? Kids can be taught resiliency in order to maintain optimism and motivation and thereby stave off depression during times of difficulty.
Knowing the importance of a child’s response to everyday disappointments, I decided not to leave him moping and catastrophizing in his room but to guide his psychology to a more optimistic viewpoint. As a parent, part of my job is to guide his thinking and response to all sorts of events and circumstances in a way that will better serve him throughout his life. And who better to coach him through it than someone who has experienced severe depression and anxiety first-hand, and even knows a little of what triggers it?
What I Did As His Parent To Address His Response to Hardship
So I followed him to his room, and, despite his protests I lovingly wedged myself between him and his misery and explained the reasons for what happened in an empathetic and truthful way. I told him truthfully (but not accusingly) why his endeavors didn’t work (this is analysis), and then I shifted his thinking from “life sucks” to “the things I can do to pull off a successful practical joke in the future.”
I offered up names of people whom he can play his practical joke on in the future (until then it hadn’t occurred to him that he might have another shot at this). And I also gave him some tips on how to keep it a secret beforehand. I even excitedly gave him some ideas on how to make it even more funny than it already is.
The point of all this talk was to focus on options and solutions to promote optimism…while at the same time avoiding catastrophising, brooding, and feelings of helplessness. Children must learn that they have the power to solve their problems if they are to be shielded against depression.
I Recommend A Book Called The Optimistic Child
A parenting book that I have read and recommend for parents with depression or parents who suspect depression in their children is called The Optimistic Child: How Learned Optimism Protects Children from Depression, by Martin Seligman, PhD. In it, Dr Seligman outlines the concept of learned helplessness, how it develops, how it lays the foundation for lifelong depression and disempowerment, and what parents can do about it. Martin Seligman is a leader in the field of positive psychology and works at the University of Pennsylvania.
An Important Note About Coaching Children’s Emotions
Coaching a child to see possibilities optimistically rather than gloomily is different from minimizing, ignoring, or belittling them for their feelings, or telling them to not feel these emotions. Emotions are not to be ignored, ashamed of, or stuffed away. Coaching to see possibilities involves first empathizing with their feelings non-judgmentally without ordering them to stop feeling them. Instead, you are injecting the possibility of a more hopeful future, which will automatically engender optimism within them if they feel loved and not judged.
Of course genetics, nutrition, and other factors all interrelate to affect a person’s propensity for depression, but parenting and cognitive coaching are very powerful ways to reshape the mental pathways of children and even adults.