The Benefits of Letting Your Child Feel Discomfort
I think when we talk about failure and what your child can learn from it, we’re really talking about the benefits of allowing your child to feel discomfort. And when I say discomfort, I mean worry, fear, disappointment, and the experience of having consequences for your actions. I think instinctively parents really don’t want their kids to feel uncomfortable about anything, even when they know that sometimes it’s beneficial for their child to pay a price for their choices. And so some parents will fight at the school, they will fight with other parents, they will fight with their kids. They will fight with anybody to claim their child’s right to never feel uncomfortable.
Somehow in our culture, protecting your child from discomfort—and the pain of disappointment—has become associated with effective parenting. The idea seems to be that if your child suffers any discomfort or the normal pain associated with growing up, there’s something you’re not doing as a parent. Personally, I think that’s a dangerous trap parents fall into. While I don’t think situations should be sought out where a child is uncomfortable, I do think if that child is uncomfortable because of some natural situation or consequence, you should not interfere.
Look at it this way: when a child is feeling upset, frustrated, angry or sad, they’re in a position to develop some important coping skills. The first thing they learn is to avoid similar situations. So if your child is called on in class to answer a homework question and he didn’t do it, he can learn to avoid that by doing his homework—not by having his mother tell the teacher not to call on him anymore because it makes him feel bad.
The other thing that happens is that your child builds up a tolerance for discomfort, an emotional callous, if you will, and I think that’s very valuable. Discomfort is such a part of our life, whether you’re squeezed into a subway car, waiting in line at the supermarket, or passed over for a promotion. Everyone experiences difficult things from time to time, which will make you uncomfortable and frustrated. It’s so important for your child to be able to learn how to manage those situations and to develop a tolerance for them. And make no mistake, if he doesn’t learn to tolerate discomfort, he’s going to be a very frustrated adolescent and adult.
So I advise parents to let your kid wait in line—don’t try to figure out how to cut ahead. When your child is starting to get frustrated, point it out. You can say, “Yeah, I know it’s frustrating to wait, but this is the way we have to do it.” Suggest a coping skill.
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