Many of us recall watching Winnie the Pooh as children. The best of friends, Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger, and Eeyore live together in the Hundred Acre Wood. Each character is unique - hunny-loving Pooh, fretful Piglet, persnickety Rabbit, winsome and buoyant Tigger, and gloomy, blue Eeyore. Always sad with his head hung low, Eeyore expects the worst, thinks very little of himself, and struggles to enjoy his friends or his life.
Sometimes our children fall into a bit of a funk. Much like us, they have bad days too. Even in their youth, they face a myriad of challenges such as making a bad grade despite studying, failing to obtain the lead in the school play, losing the championship football game, finding out that their crush likes someone else, or learning that their parents are getting a divorce. We see them with their tear-stained cheeks, questioning their skills and abilities when they don't make the team, desperately wanting to be "cool" so their peers will like them, or resigning themselves never to try again because the pain of defeat was too much to bear.
As a parent, I wish I could magically resolve their conflicts and erase their heartaches and disappointments; but, I can't. And frankly, fixing our children's problems for them only teaches them to come to us for solutions when difficulties arise, leaving them ill-equipped for the future and intolerant of emotional distress. So how do we prepare our children to handle sadness and failure?
1) Allow your child to feel sad or disappointed and encourage him to share those feelings with you
Similar to my previous post, "Taming the Mood Monster: The Fiery Dragon," the first strategy I list is for us to give our children permission to experience negative feelings. It is so hard to watch your baby cry miserably because she's upset, but this step is critical to her healthy emotional development. Whether through our words or our actions, when our initial response to their pain is telling them to "just get over it," we fail to acknowledge the hurt that is so real to them. We inadvertently create a space where our children no longer feel safe sharing or being vulnerable around us. We risk making them feel invalidated and silenced.
2) Adopt "the glass is half-full" mentality
Sometimes our children get so caught up in what went wrong and what they don't have that they forget what went right and all things they do have. To combat this tendency, I suggest adopting the "glass half-full" mentality where we intentionally look for the positive rather than focusing on the negative. This skill takes practice but can be quite effective in many circumstances. When your child's best friend decides to find new best friend, frame this as an opportunity to make new friends or hang out with old ones. When your child doesn't make the team, tell him that he now has time to take up another hobby or sport that he's been wanting to try. Reframing their perspective does not negate their disappointment nor does it disavow their feelings - it just shifts the focus.
3) Make a gratitude jar
Hurt and sadness blind our children's reality. They feel unloved, unwanted, empty, disconnected, and like a failure. They wear their gloom like a thick, heavy cloak that weighs them down. They see no good, unable to recognize that their view is distorted. To correct their twisted perspective, I suggest making a gratitude jar and ideally when their mood is good. Have your child write some things on slips of paper - something for which she is grateful, an individual, a blessing, an unexpected gift, a tender memory - then toss the paper into a beautifully decorated gratitude jar. When the blues overwhelm him, he can reach into the gratitude jar as a tangible reminder of all the good that is in his life despite his current circumstances.
What tips do you use for pulling yourselves or your children out of the blue funk?