Preventing all pain is what parents want to do. But is it really what’s best for their child?
In his book, 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, author Tim Elmore talks about the importance of not preventing all pain. This week I will address #10 of a 12-part series on parenting mistakes. Here are the first eight:
- Mistake #1: Parents not letting their kids fail
- Mistake #2: Parents project their lives on their children
- Mistake #3: Putting too much emphasis on being happy
- Mistake #4: Inconsistency
- Mistake #5: Rescuing Children
- Mistake #6: Too Much Praise
- Mistake #7: Skipping the Struggle
- Mistake #8: Over-parenting
- Mistake #9: Praising the Wrong Things
Mistake #10: Preventing All Pain
It’s easy for parents to choose the path of least pain for their kids because it is actually the path of least pain for US.
Author Tim Elmore explains it this way:
I believe the first issue we parents must deal with is our own selfishness. We love our kids, but often we choose the path of ease and simplicity over the challenge of training them to become healthy adults. Fixing problems superficially is quicker and easier than equipping our kids to go the distance. Sometimes it is a painful process–for them and for us.
Our goal as parents should not be to remove all pain, although the common misconception is that removing all pain is what good parents do. We love our kids, right? We do not want to see them in pain. I hated it when my kids were growing up and I still hate seeing them in pain.
But it is not our job to take away any discomfort that comes into their lives. We should not be driven to keep them free from all pain. Instead, it is our job to work with them to help them navigate their way through pain, instead of removing it.
My goal is to teach them that pleasure is not the removal of pain, but the satisfaction that comes when they overcome it as they pursue their life’s purpose.
When my oldest daughter was a freshman in high school, she tried out for a club volleyball team and did not make it. She was in tears, feeling rejected and it was especially hard because girls made the team who were really no better than her, but their parents happened to have more influence.
It would have been easy for me to try to take away her pain by confronting the coaches and questioning their politics. But my husband and I knew that our job was not to take away the hurt, but help her move through it.
Helping your children deal with pain when they are young and surrounded by parents who love them and can guide them, rather than removing it, prepares them for pain that will come in adulthood.
Today, that same daughter is dealing with another pain, and at 32, she’s figuring out how to handle it. I’m here to love, support, and pray for her, but there is absolutely nothing else I can do to alleviate it. However, because she learned early on to navigate pain, I know she’s going to be okay. It may not be easy for her, but she will be okay.
How do parents go about removing pain? Here are a couple of pain-removing tactics that many parents employ:
- They step in to intervene before their child has a chance to even try to solve the problem.
- They medicate their kids’ pain by offering something external for the hurt, such as buying them something, promising them a reward or prize, giving them extra privileges.
- They predict pain ahead and do whatever they can to steer their kids in another direction.
Let’s make one very important distinction: It’s important for parents to distinguish between hurtful and harmful.
Hurting can help because when a person hurts, they learn important things about themselves and others, truths that will help them later in life. But hurt is different from harm. Harm damages over the long haul. Parents often assume that if kids are hurting, they are being harmed, and that’s not necessarily true.
Pain is a necessary teacher. The pain of feeling a burn or a cut is a valuable message. It alerts us to take action. It may hurt, but it moves us to take action. The harm happens when we fail to heed what the pain is telling us.
(Obviously, I’m not talking about pain from any sort of abuse or bullying! Those issues must be confronted.)
Let’s go back to the example of my daughter who was cut from the volleyball team. She was hurt and felt rejected. We comforted, listened, and then helped her figure out what her next action would be. In that particular instance, it was to forget about playing volleyball in high school and focus on the sport she really loved and that was softball. The result of that choice? She ended up playing four years in high school, for school and club teams, played college softball for four years, and is now a high school softball coach!
If we’d stepped in to alleviate her pain by insisting she was good enough for the team and accuse them of youth sports politics, she may have made the team and her whole mindset of focusing on softball would have never been brought to the surface. In the end, alleviating that hurt would have actually caused more harm because she might have missed out on a great softball playing career.
Parents, I know this is a hard truth to face. Seeing our kids in pain is painful for us too. We feel their pain deeply. But we must resist the temptation to take away all their hurt simply to make ourselves feel less stressed. Your child needs to learn what pain has to teach them.