- Article by Ms. Srilatha Srikant (Counseling Psychologist at Prafulta Psychological Services)
Are today’s parents addicted to seeing their children smile and keeping them eternally happy?
It is no longer breaking news that many kids today make exorbitant demands and need instant gratification. Or that they have low frustration or discomfort tolerance.
But what if the shoe is on the other foot? What happens when parents show low frustration tolerance? When parents think it’s ‘unbearable’ or ‘too much’ to see their children in difficulty of any kind and rush to bail them out? Or when parents give in to their child’s demands in a trice for fear of upsetting him?
Can children develop adequate emotional muscle to deal with day to day adversities when parents shield them from emotionally distressing situations? Or when short term rewards like avoidance of pain take priority over long term gains like gaining resilience?
Time was when parents insisted that their child ‘pull up his socks’ and get on with the job of studying, or doing without an expensive toy, or dealing with the disappointment of a poor academic performance. When parents did not walk on eggshells; were not afraid to say a firm ‘NO!’ When parents did not ‘hand hold’ beyond a reasonable period or did not ruminate endlessly why their brattish eight-year-old couldn’t make friends or did not beat themselves up about their brilliant teen’s poor sporting debut.
When parents get easily disturbed by their children’s upsets, they convey the following messages:
• "I can't bear to see you in emotional pain or inconvenience of any kind.’ (resulting in parental anxiety, depression; lack of emotional awareness, denial or suppression of feelings by the child)
• ‘You will never be able to withstand deprivation of any kind.’ (resulting in impulsive behaviours, high need for immediate gratification, anger, aggression by the child)
• ‘Others /life should always treat you kindly and fairly.’ (resulting in narcissism, a sense of entitlement, anger)
• ’It is disastrous if you don’t get what you demand.’ (resulting again in a sense of entitlement, irresponsible behaviour)
When parents insist that they themselves should always be happy and content or that raising kids should not be difficult or complicated, are they not selling their children an utterly unrealistic, distorted, mythical idea that the world should be pain-free and hassle-free and that the universe should magically conspire to fulfill their every need? In the real world, the child will face unfair criticism, must probably put up with a messy roommate in hostel, must deal with the prospect of continuing in an unfulfilling job, must deal with rejection or learn to tolerate difficult people.
It isn’t unusual to see parents play the role of ‘rescuer’ and bail a child out of sticky situations. For instance, finishing an overdue homework assignment; arguing with a teacher over the low grades assigned; or intervening in a child’s squabbles with his friends. When parents become the child’s permanent protector, the child is spared the challenging task of dealing with difficult feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, guilt and the like, on his own. Isn’t it human to experience the entire gamut of positive and painful, negative emotions and learn to cope with them?
You can’t rescue your kids from every challenge they face. and if you try, they will learn that negative emotions are intolerable and that problems can’t be solved (at least, by them) or endured.
As parents, we can ponder over some of these questions and examine our attitudes towards our children:
Define 'intolerable' and 'unbearable'. What exactly would you not be able to stand if your child is distressed?
Would it be worth tolerating the intense emotions your child displays? How and why?
What is the upside to a child facing difficult emotions?
By providing ‘emotional quick fixes’, are you looking at short-term gains and long-term pain? How is this beneficial?
What's the real problem- your child's distressful situation or the fact that you are awfulising it and saying it’s unbearable?
Why must you be that one parent in the universe that gets an easy-going kid with no emotional problems?
Do you think it is mandatory that you not be frustrated or inconvenienced as a parent?
Granted that fear, depression, anxiety, anger and other such emotional states are unpleasant, how can you learn to be more tolerant and accepting of them, instead of feeling intimidated by them?
As Marcus Aurelius suggests: ‘‘Begin each day by saying
to yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence,
disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness.’’
And of course, ‘This too shall pass.’