There’s no arguing that parenting is filled with a lot of things—joy, amazement, miracles, and laughter. There’s also plenty of chaos, frustration, and bewilderment. These can illicit anger, impatience, and frustration for both parents and kids. When we feel these difficult emotions, we want to get rid of them right away—but that’s not always the best thing to do.
For many parents, we were raised to believe we shouldn’t talk about emotions.
We may have heard phrases like:
- Save your tears for another time.
- You’re okay.
- You’re a big boy.
- Big girls don’t cry.
- Toughen up.
These phrases are a quick way to get your kiddo to stop crying so that you don’t have to deal with the difficult emotions that come up in you when your child is crying (which may be because the dismissive statements we heard growing up didn’t teach us how to process emotions much at all).
Perhaps seeing your child cry over seemingly petty things, such as spilled milk, brings up one more stressful moment to your day and you immediately feel frustration, anger, or exasperation. Or perhaps your child’s tears over a skinned knee makes you feel guilty for not preventing the accident or sad that your kiddo is experiencing pain so you quickly try to dismiss their tears.
The problem with trying to dismiss their difficult emotions is that by doing so parents are unknowingly depriving children of the vital lessons surrounding emotions. Our desperate pleas to get the crying to stop sends our children a disastrous message: “you’re not okay when you feel this way.” But in reality, their emotions are a normal part of the human experience and processing them in a healthy way may be some of the most important lessons you can teach your child.
So, let’s turn this around, shall we? When your children are experiencing difficult emotions, responses reflecting these core truths are best:
Core Truths to Teach:
- All emotions are okay
- Emotions are a normal part of the human experience
- Emotions can serve as an alert system – they tell us that us that something needs to change (possibly making a different choice, planning differently, honoring our need to grieve a loss, or taking better care of ourselves)
These can be big concepts for little ones (and for adults!). Here are a few things you can say when your child is experiencing difficult emotions—these phrases help to validate your child for the emotions they feel instead of shaming them:
Responses to Difficult Emotions:
- You are feeling (name emotion). It’s okay to feel this way. What can we do about it?
- I have felt this way before too and doing this made me feel better.
- I am here.
- How can I make you feel better?
- Feeling (anger/frustration/sadness/etc.) is so hard isn’t it? We’ll get through this together.
- When I feel mad, I take three deep breaths before I say or do anything.
- Feeling frustrated is no fun – what can we do to change this? (offer suggestions if they can’t think of anything)
While you’re at it, try saying these phrases to yourself when you’re experiencing difficult emotions. Our children are watching us and if they see their parents loose their cool at the drop of a hat, they’ll also learn to do the same.
Teaching your children about emotions is one of their most vital lessons in life. Often doing so brings up a lot of triggering issues for adults. If you’re struggling, reach out for help from a therapist or parent educator.
Want some more help on this subject?
Check out my Connected Parenting class on Thursday, July 13th at 6 pm. You can grab your tickets here: https://kindredcounseling.eventbrite.com