Day 14: Helping Children Find Joy When Their Life is Hard – Guest post by Alicia Vining

“He doesn’t like anything about this country or the people,” I told the therapist about one of my children.⁣

I initiated a phone call with her because I had exhausted all my ideas. The mom guilt was weighing heavy on my shoulders. I couldn’t help but think of all the long-term issues I might be causing my child by living somewhere he simply did not want to be.

Mentally, I had prepared myself to hear the therapist say the situation was beyond repair—because that’s how I was feeling. Instead, she asked me what my son enjoyed to do.⁣

⁣“He likes to play games,” I responded.⁣

⁣“Well, maybe we can turn some of these difficult parts of the culture into a game,” she suggested. “For example, every time he successfully dodges a random cheek-pinching, he gets a point. Or if he greets people in the local language, he gets a point.”

⁣“I’m listening…,” I said with a piqued interest.⁣

⁣She went on to explain that once a certain amount of points are collected for handling a difficult thing well, we should do something really fun. BUT, the fun thing had to be something related to — or found within— where we we lived. This was key.⁣

From a young age, in an attempt to make sense of our world, we begin categorizing our experiences. When we start forming negative associations about people or places, we create a category of “things to avoid like the plague” in order to protect ourselves and set up boundaries.

Sometimes, this really does protect us from harmful situations. But it’s not helpful when mislabeling is at play and begins causing prejudices or misconceptions. Positive association, on the other hand, can help break down a category that a child is still trying to form on their own.

As parents, the last thing we want to do is accidentally teach our children that all the fun, enjoyable, and rewarding things are only found apart from our current location. We want them to find joy and happiness in all circumstances. We want them to know that hardships are inevitable, no matter where they are in the world, but rewarding experiences can found right where they are, too.⁣

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