As parents, we spend a lot of time making our kids comfortable. Feeling cold? I’ll grab you a sweatshirt. Hungry? Let me get you a snack right away! Kid being unkind? I’ll complain to the teacher and make her stop!
At times, I’ve felt like it’s my duty to alleviate any discomfort my child is feeling. I think a lot of parents feel this way during this unique era of “overparenting.” One friend described the “lawnmower” parent who grooms the path for their child to make it smooth and without any bumps.
Some of us by nature are more “gritty” than others, able to push ourselves and deal with discomfort. Think about endurance runners who stumble across the finish line, bloody and exhausted. Others of us are more prone to climbing deeper into our turtle shell when faced with life’s inevitable discomforts and challenges. We tend to hunker safely inside our comfort zone and not let anyone or anything pull us out.
No matter where our kid’s (or our own) starting point may be, it’s important to explore the concept of being uncomfortable and, as parents, learn to tolerate that discomfort when our kids are feeling anxious, nervous, or afraid.
It’s not easy. Our natural instinct is to protect our kids from any and all discomfort. And when they’re little, that natural instinct serves us (and them) well. We change dirty diapers, feed them when they’re hungry, grab them before they run into the street.
Emotional discomfort is even harder to handle as a parent. When a kid makes a mean comment to our child and hurts his or her feelings, we bristle. We want to alleviate the discomfort immediately, so we call the school, the other kid’s parents, and the FBI to come in and stop that horrid child from making our beloved feel uncomfortable.
How can we best help our kids develop into adults who persevere and can handle life’s inevitable setbacks?
We must learn to coach our children to tolerate their discomfort. If we help them figure out coping strategies, they will be better able to respond the next time an uncomfortable or painful situation arises. For our kids to develop their grit and learn to expand their comfort zone, we need to be supportive, engaged, and empathetic, without immediately swooping in to ease their discomfort.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989. She is the author of the 2019 parenting book, Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults. “Sunshine” has been writing and podcasting about summer camp, well-being, social skills, and parenting at Sunshine Parenting since 2012.