4 Ways to Help Kids Deal with Discomfort: Life Skills that Build Emotional Resilience
I recently surveyed a group of parents to discover the reasons they avoid discussions about pornography with children. One of the top responses was, “I’m afraid I’ll make my child uncomfortable.” This surprised me at first! But as I reflected on my own parenting, I saw similar behaviors on my part. None of us enjoy putting our kids in uncomfortable situations.
Who is actually uncomfortable?
When my children were toddlers, they weren’t always great about entertaining themselves. Mommy and Daddy can’t play on the floor with the kids every waking hour of the day. This seriously disappointed my one- and three-year-old children. I probably don’t need to describe to you the scene that unfolded whenever we didn’t give in to their desires. The question arises: which of us was uncomfortable? Was it my daughter crying and rolling on the floor, or me who had to listen to her? When I finally broke my TV rules and turned on a cartoon for her, did I give in because she was uncomfortable, or because I was?
Let's look at our real motives
Recently I brainstormed with a large group of teenagers. I shared my discovery that many parents don’t talk to their kids about porn because they don’t want to make their kids uncomfortable. I asked the teens what they thought about that. One boy, age 15, wrote the following:
“This is an excuse for yourself being uncomfortable. Step out of your comfort zone!”
Sometimes we need to hear blunt, honest responses from kids. I certainly don’t have a perfect record of braving my kids’ discomfort to do hard but unpopular things. And if I’m honest, sometimes I was reacting more to my own distress than that of my kids. I turned on the TV because I was tired of the crying.
Dealing with discomfort is a life skill
Striving to protect a child from feeling uncomfortable is not a favor to them. All of us need to learn the skill of dealing with discomfort. This skill is called emotional resilience. A recent New York Times article, How Parents are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood, states, “Learning to solve problems, take risks, and overcome frustration are crucial life skills.” Kids need lots of practice in uncomfortable, challenging situations to learn how to deal with them. This goes beyond talking about the dangers of pornography, and includes learning to succeed in life in general. Sometimes we need to remember we are raising adults, not children. To become successful adults, they need to practice facing hard things.
More good advice from teens
Again, the teens in our group had words of wisdom for us parents. Boy, age 15, “Your child will be uncomfortable. It’s normal.” Girl, age 15, “Wouldn’t you rather your child be uncomfortable than making mistakes that will hurt them?” So basically, we adults need to lean into the discomfort of seeing our kids be uncomfortable. A recent article from Motherly, Mentally Strong Kids Have Parents Who Refuse to do These 13 Things explains, “Hurt feelings, sadness and anxiety are part of life. Letting kids experience those painful feelings gives them opportunities to practice tolerating discomfort.” It goes on to advise, “Provide your kids with the guidance and support they need to deal with pain so they can gain confidence in their ability to handle life's inevitable hardships.”
Resisting pornography requires managing discomfort
The skill of accepting difficult feelings is directly relevant to preparing kids to grow up free from pornography problems. While first exposure to pornography is usually accidental or due to curiosity, it becomes a bigger danger when pornography becomes a way for a child to escape from discomfort. During pornography viewing, endorphins are released in the brain which numb out negative feelings. Once a child experiences this, pornography can easily become a child’s favorite comforter. This is why teaching our children how to cope with discomfort in healthy ways is an essential part of helping them resist pornography. When they have better ways to work through their own frustration and disappointment, pornography is easier to turn away from. One 13-year-old boy gave this helpful advice,
“Some conversations need to be had - and it might be weird, but it will be better in the long run.”
In the case of talking about pornography, that could not be more true.
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Some resilience-building ideas to try at home
This is a skill that applies to all areas of life. Some common sources of discomfort for children are boredom, not getting their favorite treat, or not being able to have all the screen time they want. Here are a few ways we can help our children develop resilience.
- Tell your children you are going on an outing, but don’t tell them where. Don’t pack anything for them to play with. No sports equipment, cards, or anything like that. Leave every cell phone, tablet, and game system at home. Take your children to a park. You find a place to sit and then tell your children to play. Don’t help them decide what to do. It’s ok if they’re upset for awhile. If the opportunity arises, tell them that we all need to learn to be happy even when we have to make up things to do. Be fair and don’t bring anything for you to do either! If they ask you to join them in a game they come up with, you should. Stay in the park for at least one hour.
- Plan a grocery shopping trip with your kids. Take time beforehand to divide your list into smaller lists, one for each child. Then take your kids shopping and leave all electronic devices at home. Once there, have your kids find all the items on their list. It might be best for you not to have a list, but just supervise. Be upbeat and encouraging! If kids complain, explain that all of us have things we need to do that we don’t like, but we can still try to make it fun.
- Plan time for your kids to play outside. You could work with another family and invite several children over at once. Have them put away all their devices and go play in the yard. Don’t help them find something to do - let them figure it out! Let them play for an hour or two. When they come in, share a snack, with the TV off.
Now for the uncomfortable pornography discussion
Now that we’ve determined that we shouldn’t let discomfort (of either our children or ourselves) stop us from talking about the tough issue of pornography, how do we move ahead? Of course, you can do what you can to lower your own anxiety. Try your best to appear calm and unafraid when you talk about pornography, so that your child will follow your lead. But it’s ok to show a little nervousness! Especially if you just fess up to your kids and admit it. “I’m sorry if I seem a little shy and uneasy about talking about pornography with you. I worry that this conversation will make you uncomfortable too! How about if we help each other out by being kind and patient while we figure this out.” If you can do that, what did you just teach your kids? An amazing lesson that good parents love their kids enough to talk about important things even when they’re a little scared to do so! What a great example you are being! And your children will feel they have permission to also speak up about hard things. None of us like to feel awkward. We don’t like to watch our children feel uncomfortable either. However, pornography causes much greater harm to our children than the discomfort of talking about it will. In addition, our children need to learn how to face uncomfortable situations, especially if they are necessary for their protection and growth. Let’s encourage each other to have the discussions we know we need to have with our children.