Psychological discomfort is an inevitable part of life.
But it's tempting to believe what our culture likes to tell us from every angle: "If you feel bad—don't! Avoid it, escape it, numb it, cut it out, or cut it off!" We're taught by advertising, well-meaning friends, and Instagram to seek the path of least resistance. It’s tempting to believe that ourselves, and certainly tempting to share that advice with kids. But that message is not helpful to kids as they’re growing up.
Psychological discomfort is what happens when something doesn't feel right. It can also manifest through physical reactions, like physical anxiety, not just emotional. Here are a few examples:
A kid who feels guilty for talking negatively behind a friend's back—a friend they've had since elementary school.
A kid who feels anxious because they copied their homework from someone else worries they will get busted.
A kid who feels trapped by a new friend who wants to talk with them all the time and only sit with them exclusively at lunch.
There's often wisdom hidden inside our psychological discomfort. Call it our intuition, God, the universe, or a moral compass; taking a step back to get curious about why we're feeling uncomfortable is often the best way to get a better perspective and clarity.
Maybe I shouldn't speak poorly about people who've been good to me.
Maybe I should do my own homework and engage more during class, so I feel better prepared.
I may need to establish some healthier boundaries with this new friend who feels like they want to control me.
Most adults know that psychological discomfort sucks but is a normal and necessary part of living wisely in a complex world. We learn to pay attention to these disturbances as inner cues, pausing to reflect on why we feel the way we do. We learn the importance of going a few layers deeper than the surface, not just settling for escape, blame, or excuses. Only some problems can be fixed quickly; some require more nuance, patience, and wisdom. So we listen to ourselves and how we feel and don’t override those signals.
Kids need to learn the same lesson. Validate their reactions and feelings, saying things like, “No wonder you feel that way,” and, “Makes sense to me.” But nudge them a bit further, too. Ask them questions that help them pause to reflect on where their emotions are coming from, and consider alternative interpretations. They might not respond at the moment, but your curiosity can plant a seed in them to reflect more deeply on the wisdom of their discomfort.
P.S. What if there was a way to get the best resources to impact the kids in your life—delivered to you at the right time?
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).