Help Them Understand This Distinction

It would be wonderful if they never got upset. If they never were tempted. If they never felt like breaking the rules or breaking stuff.

But that’s not really what being a kid is about is it? It’s not really how being a human is either.

We have emotions. We experience stressful situations. We have intrusive thoughts.

So really what we have to teach our kids, Dr. Becky writes in her incredible book Good Inside (must read!), is how to differentiate urge from action. “Having the urge to bite is okay,” she explains, “biting a person is not. Having the urge to hit is okay; hitting a person is not okay.” We know this to be true in our adult lives—that there’s a big difference between being angry and then doing something rash or irresponsible or hurtful out of anger. We know that we can type the email and not send it. We know that we can want to quit on the spot but think better of it.

“Parents often have the goal of getting rid of the urge,” Dr. Becky writes. What’s wrong with you? Why would you want to hurt someone? But it’s better, she says, if we can try “humanizing the urge and then shifting where we allow a child to discharge it,” because “it allows the child to gain regulation and, over time, make better decisions.”

Instead of shaming them for the feeling—which is not in their control—empower them about their actions—which are much more in their control. Our job is to teach them about regulation, about redirection, about our ability to realize we’re going down a bad road, stop and turn around. It’s also to teach them about the responsibility to evaluate after we’ve lost control, apologize, repair and learn from what happened.

Emotions are ok. What certain emotions compel us to do is less ok.

We—they—have to understand this distinction.

We had Dr. Becky, who’s been called “the millennial parent whisperer,” on the Daily Stoic podcast and got into coping with stress as a parent and how to educate children on emotions. You can listen here or watch on the Daily Stoic YouTube, where you can also find videos like How To Actually Be Happier in 2024 (According to the Stoics).

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