Your child is upset. Really upset. They want something that they can’t have and it’s not going away.
You’re frustrated. You really want this to end. You can see that if your child just stopped thinking about it, they would stop feeling upset.
Many peaceful parents will recommend using distraction, particularly with younger children. They use the disclaimer that it doesn’t do any harm and “it helps!”
When parenting respectfully, we aim to do things more consciously than just what ‘works’. We also understand that while something may help short term, our goals aren’t to make the behaviour stop. That’s not our aim. We understand that behaviour is a signal.
Distraction is just that – it distracts from the real work of processing emotions.
If our aim is to help our child work through the feelings under the upset, then distracting them isn’t going to be helpful.
Distraction robs the child of the ability to learn healthy coping mechanisms. When we take advantage of young children’s ability to adapt by redirecting them to something else, we are ignoring the feelings that they’re allowed to express. Their emotions are valid regardless of how uncomfortable they make us feel!
If we are aiming to help our children handle strong emotions then they actually have to:
- Be able to fully feel those emotions without belittling/shaming/distracting/blaming/punishment,
- Have their emotions validated,
- Have adequate open support to process said emotions to learn, and
- Practice coping mechanisms.
I mean the reason why so many of us struggle with the strong emotions of our children is in part because we were parented in a way that dismissed and silenced our feelings, right?
So how do we respectfully distract our kids? We don’t. We can’t. It’s not respectful to take away opportunities to express and process emotions.
What to do instead? Here’s some helpful reading: