Teaching Kids to be Uncomfortable

I’m sitting in church watching the parade of children. A child walks past to get a drink. Another goes to the restroom. Another is getting something they forgot. I see multiple kids go out multiple times. The church service is only an hour long, but somehow some kids manage to leave 3 or more times.


Later I’m driving down the one lane highway through farmland to my house and my daughter announces that she is thirsty. “Great” I say, "we’ll be home soon”, “But I’m THIRSTY!” She exclaims. 


When did thirst become such an emergency? Why do kids think that they can’t sit for an hour of church without getting a drink? Why is a 15 minute car ride unbearable without having a bottle of water handy? 


I can’t imagine that it has always been this way.


200 years ago as pioneers were crossing the plains, did a child announce their thirst and flop to the ground, unable to walk the remaining mile to the stream for a drink of water?


Of course not! I am assuming that they didn’t have the option to quench their thirst on demand. They just got to be thirsty until they walked to the stream.


Not even that long ago, when I was a child in the 80’s, water bottles were not much of a thing. I lived in Arizona. Heat is a big deal there, and it is important to be hydrated. I remember my parents packing a cooler of water in our van for day trips to our favorite nature spots. On the drive, I don’t remember having water bottles for when I was thirsty on the way. I think I just got to be thirsty until we got there.


I don’t remember it being a big deal.


I survived and was not scarred for life because I didn’t have a drink on the drive.


With the mass production of water bottles in recent years, I think in many ways we have lost the capacity to be thirsty.


What is so terrible about being thirsty?


Conversely why is it a problem to quench our thirst every time we are thirsty?


It comes down to discomfort.


Being thirsty is a sensation in your body. Maybe you feel a pit in your stomach, or a sinking feeling in your throat. Maybe your tongue feels dry and heavy. Whatever you feel, thirst usually feels uncomfortable. Solving thirst by getting a drink feels much better than sitting with thirst.


This morning two of my kids got in a fight over some legos. They were yelling at each other and legos were broken. As I heard about who did what, I realized, both of them experienced discomfort because of their thoughts about what their brother should have done, and instead of just being uncomfortable, they reacted with yelling and breaking things.


They could have just been uncomfortable, but instead they decided to react.


Spoiler alert: Being uncomfortable is uncomfortable. (shocker, I know)


Instead of just experiencing the discomfort of not having their sibling behave how they think they should, they reacted with anger. 


I explained to them that if they were willing to just sit with their own discomfort, they wouldn’t have needed to yell or break things. They could just be disappointed that things didn’t go the way they wanted them to. Just be disappointed. 


The same is true for myself. When my kids don’t do what I think they should, if I am willing to just be uncomfortable with the discomfort of it, I don’t need to yell, threaten, or freak out. I can just be uncomfortable.


Being thirsty and getting a drink immediately is not a problem, but being uncomfortable and needing to react to it can create problems.


If you’re at a party and there are tons of treats being eaten, if you can just be uncomfortable not eating the treats, keeping your health goals will be easier.


If you’re driving down the road and your kids are fighting, and you can just be uncomfortable with the noise, you’ll be able to react in a teachable way, not a freak-out way.


If your husband is grumpy, and you are willing to just be uncomfortable with his discomfort, you won’t need to start a fight about why he shouldn’t be grumpy. You can just move on with your life and allow him to