Parents want to protect their children from experiencing painful times, but also know that periods of adversity are bound to occur in life. Although you can’t prevent them, there are ways you can equip your child to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties.
As your child grows, it’s important to give him space to solve everyday problems on his own, rather than stepping in too quickly. Encourage him to practice his problem-solving skills when difficulties are small in order to prepare him to handle life’s bigger problems.
The life you live is the most important tool you have for teaching your child. During difficult times or crises, it is especially helpful to model appropriate expression of emotions and flexible problem-solving.
When appropriate, it can be very helpful to share your personal story, including the difficult times, with your child. Talk about what you experienced, what you did to cope, and even some of the mistakes you made along the way. Your child will benefit from your life experience.
Sometimes the adversities we face are ones we’ve created as a result of poor choices or even sinful behavior. When your child experiences this type of adversity it is especially important for her to know how to forgive herself and then focus her energy on fixing her mistakes so she can move forward to a new beginning.
Talking about problems helps us to understand the complexity of a situation, find solutions, and ask for the help we need. Practice being a patient and non-judgmental listener for your child. You will build her confidence to talk about her experiences, and she will learn that you are a supportive listener when life is difficult.
During times of adversity, your child may feel fragile and doubt his ability to navigate the road ahead. When you let your child know you have confidence in him, it reminds him that he is a capable and competent person, and helps restore his confidence in himself.
Tough times can shake even the strongest faith, and it’s important to let your child know she can be honest with you about the spiritual uncertainty and confusion she may experience. Adversity makes us face life’s most important and complex issues, and can deepen our belief in God’s mercy and faithfulness.
Some problems are brief and intense but others can stretch out over weeks and months, testing our endurance and exhausting our resources. Runners learn to pace themselves for the length of the race before them. When your child faces trials of long duration, encourage him to pace himself accordingly so he doesn’t burn out.
Let your child know it’s normal to seek the support of others and that doing so is a sign of wisdom, not weakness. Tell her about times in your own life when you needed others to help you through a difficult time.
A child needs parents to be calm and reassuring during times of adversity. If he sees you falling apart, he may feel guilty about the distress his problem is causing and may feel the need to take care of you, rather than focusing on his own needs. Getting help to manage your own anxiety will enable you to be the calm parent your child very much needs you to be.
--Debbie Danielson ’78 is a counselor in Messiah College’s Engle Center. She and her husband, Ken ’77, have three young adult children. The youngest two are in college.