I think all parents have been guilty of, at some point, telling their child to, “Suck it up!” or at the very least, thinking it. I have devoted my life to empowering children with social-emotional programming, worked with tens of thousands of kids, written articles and presented to parents and educators on the destructive nature of telling a child (particularly boys, in a culture that promotes hyper-masculinity) to “Suck it up!” and yet, I find myself on occasion wanting to tell our 8-year old son and 6-year old daughter to (gulp!) “Suck it up!”
I truly believe that we, as parents and educators, have the best of intentions when we want to tell a child this.We’re NOT trying to tell them their feelings don’t matter. We’re NOT trying to tell them to repress emotion, sweep it under the rug, and ignore how they’re feeling.
But what we ARE trying to tell them is, “Be resilient!” (though I don’t recommend you say that either!)
We want to teach our children not to cower in the face of life’s little hurdles. We want our children to have a thick skin and emotional strength. We want them to have a voice and stand up for themselves. We want to raise children who have perspective, who don’t have a melt down when their snack is in a red bowl instead of a green bowl. And, we want children to understand that sometimes, life is not fair. The reality is we sometimes have to do things we don’t want to do, but we face those things with grace, dignity, and our head held high. We want to raise kids who make lemonade out of lemons!
To guide children towards these important end goals when they’re in a downward spiral, it’s far more effective to:
(1) identify what they’re feeling and;
(2) explicitly describe the behavior you would like to see.
To raise children who can handle life’s curveballs, here are some alternatives to “Suck it up!” that better describe what you are really trying to say:
|Example of Behavior:||Name the emotion:||Instead of “Suck it up!” try saying:|
|Your child is trying to do something complicated and is having a hard time. They start to get visibly upset.||“You seem frustrated.”||
“Keep trying! You can do it!”
Take on the coach role and try encouraging them through the obstacle. You might even suggest they take a break from the activity and come back to it when they’re composed.
|Your child is working on a group project and they all suggest ideas. The group decides to go with someone else’s idea, not your child’s. Your child is upset.||“It sounds like your feelings are hurt.”||“Are you okay?”
Be empathetic and help them put a voice to their feelings to ‘get it out’. It might be worth asking why this particular situation hurt so much, when it possibly seemed small to you. In URSTRONG, a child being upset with a friend at something small is typically a sign of a much bigger Friendship Fire®.
|You’re in a rush to leave the house and your child forgets their favorite toy they wanted to bring with them. Your child breaks down.||“You sure seem disappointed.”||“Let’s think about this. Do your feelings match the problem?”
Explain that their reaction seems misaligned with the issue. Give them examples of problems that would match their reaction. “Wow, if I didn’t know what was wrong, I would have thought your dog died!” Help them regain perspective.
|Your child is extremely upset that they have to attend their sister’s dance recital. They are desperate not to go.||“You seem annoyed.”||“This isn’t optional, but you can choose how you react. How can you make the best of the situation?”
Walk them through the idea that they can’t change the situation, but can make the best of it. I think it’s okay to tell children that life is unfair sometimes and we all have to do things we don’t want to do. Give them an example of something you do not like doing, but have to.
Written by Dana Kerford
Friendship Expert and Founder of URSTRONG