Every parent hopes that their children will grow up to be happy, confident, and smart problem-solvers. Let’s examine the thinking habits and behaviors of people who are like this. Then we can use this knowledge to teach our children to model them.
In a society where the norm is for children to complain about their hardships, we need to be extra vigilant about teaching our children how to be proactive rather than kvetch. Kids need to recognize that there are many circumstances in life that are beyond our control.
Mistake #1: Miserable people invest thought and energy into changing things that are out of their control. This leads us to mistake #2.
Mistake #2: Miserable people do not invest energy focusing on the parts of a situation that they are able to control.
For example, Joey comes home from school every day complaining that two kids on the bus tell him that he can’t sit with them. His mother mistakenly invests much time discussing the misdeeds of the other children. She calls up Joey’s teacher to find out why the other two boys exclude him and asks the teacher to encourage them to sit with him on the bus. The problem here is that they don’t want to sit with him, and since Joey’s mother is working so hard to fix this “problem” Joey now believes that this is very problematic. What a waste of time! Joey’s well-meaning mother spent all of her energy focusing on what she has no control over (other children’s choices, moods, attitudes, and behaviors) and no time asking Joey what he CAN do in this situation.
A Different Approach – Feel the Feeling and Move On
How would this story play out differently if Joey’s mother modeled the healthy mindset and actions of a happy, proactive person? She would be training his brain to embrace the hardships as an opportunity to grow, AND to focus on whatever he CAN control. I like to teach children to “FEEL THE FEELING AND MOVE ON.” Here is how that would work.
When Joey gets off the bus and complains that kids aren’t letting him sit with them, Mom would give him a big warm confident smile, and say, “that happens sometimes.” She would segue the conversation to a different topic, and if he brought it up again, she might say, “It sounds like that was hurtful,” or, “It sounds like you want to talk more about this.” Then, she will acknowledge the hardship in an empathetic way that also is balanced with vibes of strength.
After all, she is confident that if this challenge was sent to Joey, he is perfectly capable of dealing with it. She might ask him if he is looking for advice, and then say that she can think about it and get back to him. He should also think about it and get back to her. If he was asking for advice, she can point him in the direction of looking at his options. “It looks like these two boys like to sit together. You can’t control their choices. What CAN you do? It’s so normal to feel hurt. What would you like to do in the future?” Let Joey come up with his own ideas.
Focus on What You Can Control
When I teach children about how to let go of the things that are out of their control I like to present them with a metaphor: Imagine that you have a remote-control car in your living room. You are having a great time playing with it, until suddenly you look out your window and notice another child playing recklessly with his own remote-control car outside. He is knocking his remote-control car into full-size cars and almost getting it run over. You decide to “save” the car outside and use your own remote to control his car. You start to get frustrated that his car is not following your orders. How silly is it to think that it should?! You can only control your own car!
Next time your children are focusing on all the things about a situation that are out of their control such as, “My teacher gave us so much homework,” or, “A neighbor isn’t being nice to me,” validate your child’s feelings and then ask what they would like to do. If they answer that they would like the other person to change, you can say, “Sometimes I also feel like focusing on the parts of a situation I can’t control.” Then let your child come up with his or her own solutions. If your child IS asking for advice, you can say, “IF I were in your situation, I would…, but that’s just me. How would YOU like to go from here?”
Then watch your child live a proactive life!