Don’t Send Them In Defenseless

Your kids are going to face stuff in life. Big stuff for sure–failing tests, being made fun of, getting fired, losing something important to them. We may wish we could prevent that from happening, but we can’t. We teach them resilience instead.

But our kids are also going to face little situations too. The TV is going to have to be turned off at some point, and they’re not going to like it. They’re going to have to get up early for school tomorrow. Their routines are going to change. They’re going to have to try new things. They’re going to be out of their comfort zone.

This is going to bring up strong emotions: Frustration. Fear. Anger. Annoyance. Sadness.

The answer to this is also resilience, but in a more specific way. Dr. Becky talks about this in her fantastic book Good Inside, referring to a strategy she calls “emotional vaccination.” When they’re sitting down for some screen time, she says, talk to them about how in thirty minutes that screen time is going to be over, and they should think now about how that’s going to make them feel. As they’re waiting to hear back about getting accepted into a summer camp, talk about how they may not get in, and what that means, and how they can process that. As you approach a new school year, drive by the new school and talk through how those potential fears might feel.

The Stoics knew that it was the unexpected blow that landed heaviest. They would have loved this idea of emotional vaccination—preparing in advance for big feelings, doing what we can here in the present moment to take some of the sting out of it, processing it early, addressing what might be irrational or exaggerated while things are calm, while there is time.

We can teach this to our kids. Better yet, we can practice it (vaccinate) ourselves for our own inevitable and unavoidable big feelings.

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