How to turn a frustrating traffic jam into a teachable moment – even when you’re late.
It’s Thursday morning at 8:15 am and once again you are running late driving the kids to school. Getting out the door was a challenge. Your son walked right by his violin that you placed smack dab in front of the door so he wouldn’t forget it, and your daughter was only able to locate one soccer cleat. Traffic is terrible, of course. You’ve hit every red light and now, you are stuck behind the slowest dump truck in all of North America! Your eldest is whining about the likelihood of getting a tardy slip. It will be her third this month, leading to an inevitable detention.
We’ve all been there, right? Those moments of pure frustration, where you have no control, and no way to make it better. So what are your options? Road rage? No, not with the children in the car. Lecturing your brood about being more organized and responsible? No, you’ve tried that before and see how well it’s worked? Pulling over to the side of the road and screaming at everyone to get out and walk? Tempting, but it’s a busy road, that will make them even more late to school. Plus, you know that you’ll feel guilty in about five minutes and circle back to get them.
So, how about looking at this traffic jam in a different way, as a teachable moment? We all feel frustrated sometimes. So do our kids. How about using this annoying moment as a golden opportunity to teach your kids how to manage frustration? Maybe you can use this situation to role model how to cool your jets when you are irritated. Consider this Emotion Regulation 101.
“Hey kids, I am feeling really frustrated. I don’t like running late and it gets me pretty stressed out. I wish I could get this dump truck to move faster! It’s tempting to want to honk at him or yell, but really, this is one of those frustrating situations where I don’t have much control. So, what’s a mom to do? Well, maybe I can take a deep breath, or two, or three. Maybe I can turn on the radio and listen to music to distract myself. Maybe I can talk to myself and to remind me that I don’t have control in this situation and it’ll be OK. Hey kids, any ideas from you? I could use some advice from the back seat.”
As parents, we put a ton of effort into teaching our kids all of the things we think they need. Imparting knowledge is one of our biggest tasks as parents. We teach our toddlers their colors and shapes and letters. We teach our young children to read, to swim, and to memorize multiplication facts.
We make sure our teens learn algebra, a foreign language, how to drive, and we toss in a SAT prep class, just to cover all of the bases. But we don’t very often stop and think about teaching them emotional regulation skills.
We seem to think kids will simply acquire these skills through osmosis.
Here’s the thing. Teaching your child to regulate emotions is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. The child who knows how to manage frustration will do a better job memorizing his math facts and learning to drive a car. As Walter Mischel describes in his 2015 book, The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success, kids who can manage frustration also do better on the SAT. And frankly, teaching emotional regulation is actually pretty easy; easier in my opinion that teaching algebra.
So, help your kids learn to label their emotions by labeling your own. Help them develop coping skills by role-modeling coping. Everyday we have emotions and we manage them. But we usually don’t talk about our coping strategies with our kids. Now, I’m not suggesting you burden your child with all of your messy feelings. It’s probably best not to share with your ten- year-old that you are furious with your spouse because they didn’t get around to picking up milk on the way home from work. But many of your feelings, and your ways of managing your feelings, are completely appropriate to share.
Next time you are stuck in traffic, rather than blowing a gasket, use the moment to teach your kids the important stuff – how to cope with frustration and how to manage stress.
This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local emergency number, the mental health crisis hotline on your local community, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255). Trained crisis support is available at this number 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.