Are your kids unhappy enough?

Macklin sad
Photo Credit: Dinko Mitic

All we’ve ever wanted as parents is for our kids to be happy. We all think this idea makes sense and is normal, but is that really our responsibility? Or could this idea actually be damaging to our children and even to us?

As we have learned, we are not capable of making another person happy. What makes another person happy is theirthoughts, not ouractions or words. We can try our hardest to appease our kids and do everything they ask, but as you know even that doesn’t always work. They can still claim that they didn’t have fun or don’t like what you bought for them. So if we decide that it is our job to make our children happy, we are fighting an uphill battle. Our children are responsible for making themselves happy, and on top of that, it’s not possible to be happy all the time. Our children need to practice feeling negative emotions, since we as humans feel them about 50% of the time.

If we constantly save them from feeling badly or making mistakes, we are robbing them of learning how to feel bad and learning that it’s part of life.

For example, my daughter was extremely unhappy this week. She had hernia surgery (it’s genetic and pretty benign) and as result was not permitted to run, play sports, jump, climb, participate in gym or recess or go in a pool. It was harder than I thought it would be for her to miss out on things at the end of the year, to be different, and to not be with her friends at recess. The day of the surgery, she was an emotional mess: tired, cranky, and sad. She asked me to pick her up early the next couple of days so that she didn’t have to go to recess or gym and sit in the office alone. And that weekend, even though it was a hot and sunny day, none of us went to the pool. When friends came to play she couldn’t go on the trampoline or run or go to the park, and was not happy about it. She even locked our front door so that no one could come over and then do things in front of her that she couldn’t do.

It was not fun.

It was so hard for me to watch. I wanted to spare her hurt feelings in any way I could, and I had to catch myself before I did. I had to do a lot of thought work to keep myself on track. I was so thankful that I had self-coaching tools to fall back on while she was going through this tough time. Managing my thoughts kept me from preventing her from feeling bad, and therefore, helped her learn how to be human and just be OK with feeling bad.

My instinct was to talk her out of her feelings, to tell her that it’s only temporary and not that big of a deal, but instead, I coached her through being upset, or sad, or mad, which actually seemed to help. Then when she asked me to pick her up from school early, I said that I believed she could handle being in the office during recess without her friends and then talked her through her reasons wanting to avoid being there. It would have been so easy for me to pick her up and let her not feel those negative feelings, but I didn’t. I didn’t save her from herself. And it was hard, but it was worth it.

Making our children happy, or preventing them from feeling bad, is a very strong instinct when you are a parent. So, we need to have tools that we are able to access on the fly when something happens that upsets your child and you know it’s OK for them to to feel bad in this moment. Life coaching gives us the tools to let our kids feel unhappy and help us manage our own thoughts around feeling bad for our children.

So now what?

When your child isn’t happy, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they safe and unharmed?
  • Is what they are doing dangerous?
  • Could they learn something from this experience?
  • Am I preventing them from feeling bad just so I can feel better?
  • What am I making this mean? Or is this really a big deal?

If you determine that your child is safe and would benefit from learning how to feel bad in this circumstance, then you need to look at your thoughts about the situation. We have the option of thinking new thoughts, like the ones below, if we want to feel at peace when our children are unhappy.

Here are some thoughts that can help us support our children when they are in pain but still allow them to experience negative emotions:

  • My child can do hard things, and so can I.
  • My child is experiencing exactly what they are supposed to right now.
  • Nothing has gone wrong here.
  • All of this is part of his/her (or my) perfect journey.
  • I’m not supposed to talk him/her into feeling happy.
  • My only job is to love them and offer help, and hold them accountable.
  • I get to love him/her no matter what.
  • What I experienced is not supposed to be the same thing they experience.
  • Holding the space is sometimes all he/she needs.
  • My child is supposed to feel negative emotion. It will help him/her in the end.
  • We are in the process of figuring it out.

Remember also, that if you are like me and are really sensitive to others’ feelings, make sure you process your emotions around your child feeling bad. For me, I actually can feel my child’s pain, as do many parents, since we are so deeply connected to our children and it can be really easy to want to stop them from feeling bad so that we can feel better. Make sure you notice when you want to do this, and instead, stop and just let yourself process the emotion you are feeling, so that you can make a choice on how to handle the situation based on what is good for your child, and not necessarily the easiest choice for you.


  • How do you react when your child is unhappy?
  • Do you allow them to feel unhappy?
  • Do you appease them more than you want to?

With life coaching, we can talk through why this might be, and help you find new thoughts that will allow you to let your child feel unhappy when appropriate and help you feel peace and confidence instead of guilt or worry.

Summer is here and that can mean more stress sometimes. I am offering a free hour of coaching to help you have less stress and more fun this summer. Claim your spot on my calendar here!

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