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How Can Parents Protect Their Children From Pain?

2021 06 08 15 39 00051 5ad15144
Talia was just two years old when she pulled a pot of hot grits off the stove and burned her hand. She screamed in agony. We rushed to comfort her and put salve on her burns. As parents, we felt terrible about it. But it never happened again. Over time as we raised our five kids, we came to un…
By Seth Barnes

2021 06 08 15 39 00051

Talia was just two years old when she pulled a pot of hot grits off the stove and burned her hand. She screamed in agony. We rushed to comfort her and put salve on her burns. As parents, we felt terrible about it. But it never happened again.

Over time as we raised our five kids, we came to understand that they were inevitably going to encounter pain. Our job as parents was to balance the protection they needed with the risk of pain that they also needed.

These days too many parents believe that they have a choice in protecting their children from pain, but they don’t. They can delay it, but it is normal and inevitable. What we do have a choice about is whether the pain they experience is caustic pain or healthy pain – pain that allows for learning.

As parents we have to expose our children to the risk of pain at some point. The risk of falling down as they learn to walk. The risk of failure as they try new things. Protect them too much and you stunt their growth – they show up unprepared for the risk they will encounter the rest of their lives.

As our children become teenagers we begin to lose the natural protective authority of a parent and need to recruit partners who will help debrief the inevitable healthy pain so that they can learn from it and grow.

We parents – moms especially – tend to struggle to understand that pain is our teacher and therefore a luxury and a resource. If you are single moms, this is often overwhelming – it isn’t fair! You just want to protect their children from what you have encountered. Your motives are pure!

But the result, unfortunately, is often stunted growth. I have seen moms of 24 year-olds try to veto or control their choices. And it never ended well. Better to ask, “What could the pain of failure teach my child?”

We are promised that heaven is a place without pain; better to not waste the opportunity while we have it here on earth.

It is never too late to learn this lesson. If our adult children have not learned how to process their pain and learn from it, inevitably, they will try to buffer the pain in unhealthy ways (addiction of all kinds – food, work, shopping, and drugs). 

If we regret the mistakes we made in parenting them, it is not too late to release them as adults to face the consequences of their pain. Yes, the risks are higher. If they didn’t learn to process their pain, they will transmit it to others. Children and spouses will suffer. Addiction and narcissistic behavior has consequences.

But this is how we learn. Better to take the risk and begin the learning process, albeit a late start. It is never too late to embrace it.

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