The analogy goes like this:
- Difficult feelings are tunnels, and we are trains travelling through them.
We have to move all the way through the darkness to get to the—calm, peaceful light at the end of the tunnel.
It sounds simple, but it’s way easier said than done.
So often when our kids are struggling with a difficult feeling—sadness, anger, fear, embarrassment, loneliness, guilt—we try to logic them out of it. We explain why they’re overreacting, or how WE know it will turn out just fine in the end.
We’re trying to help our children, of course, but if we peel back the layers a bit, I think we’ll find that what we’re really doing is trying to make OURSELVES feel better. Because our children’s pain hurts US so deeply, makes US so acutely uncomfortable.
Back to the analogy: If emotions are tunnels and we are trains going through them, then we NEED to keep moving all the way through to the other side.
What we adults often do when facing our own emotional struggles is attempt to get out of the tunnel early—banging on the sides, ignoring the cavernous echo, and wondering with confusion why we can’t see daylight yet.
Sometimes we squat in the darkness, close our eyes, and just pretend we’re not in a tunnel at all. Everything is just fine, thank you very much.
Sometimes we do a whole host of other things—eat ice cream, drink wine, shop online, run marathons, binge watch Netflix, play games on our phones or scroll mindlessly through Facebook—to distract ourselves from the fact that we’re in a tunnel in the first place.
But none of those things gets us out of the tunnel, does it?
I decided speaking would be OK now, so I asked my son if he wanted to make a plan. I told him I knew that bedtime tonight would be extra tough, but maybe we could think of some ideas together to help him through it.
Remember Your Job
So the next time your child is deeply frustrated, angry, or upset, remember what the job of a parent really is.
The job of a parent is to:
- Provide comfort through the frustration.
- Draw out our child’s cleansing tears.
- Show empathy to our child’s struggle.
- Allow the life lesson to be learned naturally—not through preaching.
- Support our child’s journey through the emotional tunnel.
The job of a parent is NOT to get our child to stop crying as quickly as possible. Tears are a sign of parental success, not failure.