Emotions and Problem Solving – No. 2

Emotions and Problem Solving – No. 2

In the last post, we’ve looked at some of the things that make emotions and problem solving not such great partners. But I do have to backtrack a bit. Actually, high emotions in a sustained manner is the true culprit to our ability to handle problems, not merely emotions alone.

For example, besides creating the fight or flight response in us when we are anxious, a small dose of anxiety is actually a good motivator to get us off our seats so we’d take care of certain long-term projects that are important but are not inherently urgent, like exercising to improve our health. Without a bit of that anxious thought, we’ll just be content being couch potatoes, eating, eh, potato chips.

Depression can be a normal and actually, healthy reaction to shield us from further harm when we are experiencing unpleasant things. That bit of downtime allows us to grieve properly over the loss of a love, a treasure, or a memory. Depression causes the body to slow down, allowing it to rest. The quiet time that permits us to wallow in pain momentarily will at the same time, cause us to assess the damages done, consolidate our strength, and see us through the end of the tunnel.

There are actually some really interesting and healthful effects from our not-so-positive emotions, provided that they are not prolonged or excessive in nature.

But high and sustained emotions are often the very things that keep us from thinking straight and resolving conflicts, especially when it comes to handling our children.

Emotions and Problem Solving: young mother holding little girl's hand, walking down the path.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The stereotypical “good” parents are often portrayed as those who are seen (or heard) repeatedly giving verbal warnings and admonishments to their children regarding various dangers and pitfalls in all sorts of situations. But while some hollering serves effectively as early warning system or when immediate action is not possible (i.e. when Katy was about to put her hand on the hot stove), ultimately, the child has to be corrected or trained properly in order to avoid another dangerous episode or undesirable behavior.

So in our case, we could sound a stern warning at little Johnny about the impropriety of taking his pants off in public, swiftly removing him from the room, giving him a choice between keeping his clothes on or spending the evening, friendless, in his room.

Little Janie could be treated similarly. Impose a logical consequence of non-compliance (i.e. packing up and going home now) or that of compliance (i.e. Janie gets to play in the park as long as she stays in the park!)

Joey’s lunch should be removed after say, 45 minutes have elapsed. He’ll then be calmly informed that the next meal period is dinner, with no snack service and make-up meal in-between. Make the announcement matter-of-fact. Make it friendly. No air-planing of food into mouth; no one hand holding an iPad to entertain while the other trying to sneak food into the same fortress; no cajoling, threatening, or punishing.

Emotions and Problem Solving: young boy running towards the city with the setting sun ahead.

Allowing Your Children to Learn from Consequences

It is innate in our parental anxious hearts to mend all and any broken things in our precious little ones’ lives. But is it necessarily helpful?

Children are actually much more resilient than we think. The bumps and scrapes and even injuries that they get from playing rough and dumb mostly heal. Mean things someone said that devastated their lives yesterday are generally not an obsession the next day.

Sometimes things are not optimal: our children should learn to be content with soggy broccoli and cold chicken because daddy spends time cooking them. Sometimes medicine is bitter but it is ultimately taken for health, not for entertainment.

Clothing and debris can be left on the floor to show how unpleasant it is to live in a messy and dirty home. Feelings of sadness and disappointments in life can be transformed into positive actions to help us reach our goal next time.

We should neither “scrub”, sanitize, and censor excessively in order to keep our children out of harm’s way nor should we underestimate their ability to cope and heal when they are quietly encouraged to grieve properly, face their fear, and get on with their lives.

Emotions and Problem Solving: a student walking up a school stairway.
Putting Ourselves in Their Shoes

As much as we’d like to see our children as the extension of our ideal self, we should instead focus our energy on preparing them to achieve the best version of themselves, no matter how different that version might appear to us.

Are we to have no standards or expectations at all? No, that’s not the issue at heart here. The problem is when our expectations exceed the allowance for our children to fail occasionally, to not comply readily, to not always be hospitable and generous. Or that in our eagerness to give them what we didn’t have growing up (money, material, education, opportunities, etc…), we close off all possibilities for them to cultivate their own interests, grow in their own timing, and develop into their authentic self — all of which are necessary for them to become fulfilled and productive individuals.

Janie’s “C” on math can indicate many things other than the adamant declaration of her hatred for anything numeric. Most of the time, it has a lot to do with how the subject is taught. But in order to avoid disappointing us, she’ll defiantly announce that she hates this-and-that so she can be done with the whole sordid affair. Instead of springing for the emotional traps and arguing, help her figure out a way to learn so she can get better.

Before strangers (and their “stranger children”) visit the house, help your children put out age-appropriate toys that can be shared with the guests. Equally important, ask them to put away toys (and personal items) that they don’t want to share. What they have not yet possessed, they can’t possibly fathom sharing and they shouldn’t be expected to. Also, your little ones need training to know how to act hospitable. If they’re naturally “people-persons”, great! If not, let them know that it’s OK not to share everything or even enjoy the company but they do need to master basic good manners and common courtesies.

Emotions and Problem Solving: a field of dandelion in bloom.
Don’t Try to Please Everyone

You can’t be everything to everyone nor should you try. But you’ve been “commissioned” to be the parent of your children. You owe allegiance to your family first and no one else. If you are a proactive problem-solver, you’d have sooner or later found your way to a solution amidst noises disguised as expert opinions, friendly advice or outright controversies, gossip, and nay-sayings.

Stop reacting to emotionally charged assessments about your children. Go about calmly and plan out what steps to take in order to raise your children. Stick with the plan and stand your moral ground. No matter how convinced Aunt Betty sounds when she pronounces that your children are going to be some anti-social weirdos because they are homeschooled, you’ll have the courage to smile back and carry on without getting into a heated debate.

Do that and you’ll be living out the values and modeling the qualities that no words or lectures can achieve. In due time, you’ll be an adept problem-solver and your children will be equipped with the very tool that allow them to become proactive and happy people.

While emotions and problem solving aren’t necessarily sworn enemies, too much “emoting” definitely gets in the way of problem solving.


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