Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Expressing Emotion



Children have many emotions that they are learning to deal with on a daily basis. Often as parents we discourage the expression and even the feeling of emotion. Parents can sometimes be heard saying things like "Oh you're fine. Stop crying." Or "You couldn't be hot; it's freezing in here." Or "You're not tired. You just barely woke up." We sometimes deny the feelings our children try and express to us, telling them what they should be feeling instead. We teach them to not trust their own feelings.

I had not really thought too much about how I talk to my children about their feelings until I picked up the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. As I read this I became concerned about how I am addressing my children. This book gave me new insight into acknowledging how my children feel, even when it is a negative feeling. When we deny our children's feelings, conversations that could build parent-child trust generally turn into arguments instead. So how do we tune into what our children our feeling? The authors of the book recommend that we put ourselves in our children's shoes. Imagine a boss talking to us the way we talk to our children. Would we feel disrespected and unappreciated or would we feel listened to and accepted? We really have to learn to listen to our children with full attention and try to understand what they are feeling. Next, we need to acknowledge their feelings and give their feelings a name. A great example is given in the book (pg. 14-15). If we were to deny our child's feelings, the following conversation might take place:

Child: My turtle is dead. He was alive this morning.

Dad: Now don't get so upset honey. Don't cry. It's only a turtle.

Child: Wah! Wah!

Dad: Stop that. I'll buy you another turtle.

Child: I don't want another one!

Dad: Now you're being unreasonable!

If we were trying to empathize with our child the conversation could turn out differently:

Child: My turtle is dead. He was alive this morning.

Dad: Oh no! What a shock!

Child: He was my friend.

Dad: To lose a friend can hurt.

Child: I taught him to do tricks.

Dad: You two had fun together.

Child: I fed him every day.

Dad: You really cared about that turtle.

What a noticeable difference! The child in the second scenario feels loved and understood, while the child in the first feels that her father could not possibly understand what she is going through. When we help our children understand what they are feeling, they can generally move forward. When we deny them of their feelings, the child usually ends up more upset and frustrated by the situation. I have barely touched on a couple of items shared in the book, but I hope they will help you gain insight in how to talk with your own children. If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend reading the book. Please share any comments or questions on how to incorporate this type of conversation with your own child.

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