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The Dancing Parent: Helping Kids Cope With The Crushing Moments

Posted: 02/05/11 11:21 AM ET

Some of the most painful, anguish-filled moments for any mom or dad is watching their child not receive that longed-for invitation to the party, not get that desperately yearned-for role in the play, not make the team or not be invited into that coveted club or social circle.

"Crushing" barely begins to describe the soul-wrenching sadness a parent can feel when life deals out its cruel blows to their kid. These are the kinds of moments no one seems to warn you about before you become a parent, and yet they will often be the most stinging challenges a mom or dad will face in raising a child.

Making matters doubly difficult, mom and dad may well find themselves revisiting their own disappointments and losses as they watch their child struggle with harsh realities. And that's because every new defeat or loss in life we experience has a way of revivifying every other previous defeat or loss we experienced, including the broken dreams of our own childhoods.

That can be a lot to handle for a parent in the face of their child's hurt and tears. And it's not the kind of material children should be made to carry on top of their own struggle to cope with feelings of defeat.

So how can a parent best help their child through one of life's inevitable heartaches, even as their own heart is breaking? How can they be supportive and encouraging to their kid, even when they feel as if they have already somehow failed to protect their child? How can they make sure their own frustrations in life don't further burden their overwhelmed son or daughter?

The key is to begin with a thoughtful recognition of all the lingering sadness and wounds we ourselves may be carrying around inside. Only through our own emotional self-awareness -- identifying and acknowledging our own losses, even if just to ourselves -- are we able to set them aside and focus on our children, who themselves may be just discovering the dream-crushing dimensions of life.

In doing so, mom and dad can then help explain what needs explaining, help their child accept what needs to be accepted (especially when life makes no sense or seems so unfair) and learn whatever needs to be learned to grow.

That is the invitation in such moments: to grow, to make tomorrow a better day.

Remember, from a child's point of view, a mom or dad's steady presence implicitly suggests that whatever sorrows they may be feeling can be somehow survived, even if it doesn't immediately feel that way. You're living proof.

And so it is with a sense of better days to come that a parent's comfort and understanding can begin to heal a child's injury, whether it be to their pride, their hearts, their self-confidence or their faith in life.

So even when you feel you have somehow failed to protect them against life's bitter side, or you feel desperate or helpless when your child struggles, there is only so much any parent can do. Sometimes it's just being there for them that matters, especially when you can do so in full awareness of your own life struggles.

To be sure, there is wisdom in the process. Parent and child alike, it is through learning to rise and greet a new day, despite the disappointments of yesterday, that we all discover our own strengths and resilience.

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For more on this and many other parenting topics, please visit our website, TheDancingParent.com, where you can also find many useful links and resources. Until next time, keep dancing!