May Note from Dri

Doing Hard Things

I recently read this article in the Atlantic about the epidemic of depression and anxiety amongst youth. Derek Thompson gives four contributing factors: social media, low sociality, news about the world’s stresses is readily available, and modern parenting strategies. You can read his article for yourself, but what struck me most was his discussion of parenting, particularly what he calls “accommodative parenting.”

Thompson says, “If a girl is afraid of dogs, an “accommodation” would be keeping her away from every friend’s house with a dog, or if a boy won’t eat vegetables, feeding him nothing but turkey loaf for four years. These behaviors come from love. But part of growing up is learning how to release negative emotions in the face of inevitable stress. If kids never figure out how to do that, they’re more likely to experience severe anxiety as teenagers.”

In his Plain English podcast about the same topic, he discusses even more this idea of how protecting our children from pain ultimately results in even more pain. They have to experience failure in low stakes situations so that they’ll know how to handle it when the stakes are higher. His solution is a new treatment out of Yale University’s Child Study Center called SPACE, or Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. It’s all about parents being less accommodating. “If the girl is afraid of dogs, encourage her to play with young puppies. If the boy hates vegetables, caramelize[…] some broccoli.”

In our household, we recently had to enforce the “you committed to doing this activity and we will see it through” rule when one of my girls started a dance class. There were lots of tears and real anxiety about this weekly commitment. It pained me to see her so distraught over something that should be fun, and she actually enjoy every time she participates in it. I wanted nothing more than to give in and say, “you know, you’re right, if you hate it that much, maybe it’s not for you.” It would have definitely been the path of least resistance. But I stood firm, assuring her that while we could try some small accommodations, we were still going to see it through until the recital.

After discussing it further with my husband, I’m really glad that I stuck to it. It’s actually good for her to work through this anxiety now, at a young age to avoid even more social anxiety as she gets older. Sort of like exposure therapy, giving her new things that she does enjoy, even if she’s initially anxious about them, will build up her tolerance for bigger things. She went to dance class, had a great time, and next time, when she inevitably feels anxious, I can remind her that last time it was better than she thought it would be.

I’m sure this will come up again, and again in her life. But isn’t that how our faith in God works too? We are initially hesitant to trust him with a hard thing, even though we know He is our highest good. He proves himself faithful and builds our trust in him. But the very next time we come to a hard thing… We have spiritual amnesia and have to be reminded of all of His faithfulness in the past. And we do the hard things anyway, and He proves himself faithful and builds our trust in him. Repeat ad nauseum.

So I want to encourage you to do the hard thing, which might actually be to make your kiddo do the hard thing and help them turn to trust in Jesus in that hard thing. Because as Paul says in Romans, “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” It’s disparate to compare anxiety over dance class to Paul’s suffering, but even these small pains build character, and character gives hope. This is how we grow hope in our children to combat the depressing world all around them.