Yet when it comes to our kids’ feelings, parents tend to judge, cajole, dismiss, or ignore them. Does this sound familiar? When they’re…
Age 2: “Don’t cry!”
If they’re sad or frustrated, of course they feel like crying. Why not say, “I can see you’re sad.” Then hug them or cheer them up. Bubbles and a few dozen choruses of “The Wheels on the Bus” work, too. As does, “Look! A doggie!”
Age 4: “Stop acting like a baby.”
If you chastise or punish your kids for displaying anger or fear, you teach them that expressing negative emotions will result in negative consequences. Instead say, “No wonder you’re upset. Susie threw your toy in the dog’s bowl.” A little validation goes a long way in calming everyone the heck down.
Age 8: “No, I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong…”
…as you turn your head and wipe a tear. They know you’re not fine, and that makes you a liar. Instead of teaching them to lie about negative feelings, say, “I’m upset about a grown-up problem, honey.” No need to go into the details of the money, marital, family, or health problem that’s making you cry. Just ask for a hug…while they’re still young enough to dole them out.
Age 12: “You’re too old to cry. Be a man and suck it up.”
So, “being a man” means stuffing your emotions into your body until they come out years later in booze abuse or road rage or heart disease? That’s just one way we teach boys not to express emotions. It’s also in the words we use when they’re still little. But home should be a safe haven for sadness or whatever other emotions come out. Because middle school sure isn’t.
Age 16: “You’re mad at me? After what I’ve done for you? You have no right.”
Actually, yes they do. Remember feelings aren’t wrong, even if they annoy you. So before you take away the iPhone or the car keys until your teen recants (because of course, that won’t make them even more angry…), hear them out. And I mean really, truly hear. Don’t debate or dismiss their feelings, line by line. Instead, reflect back what they’re saying and try to be compassionate. You might even find — gasp! — it makes you closer to your teen.
At first, it may feel weird to change the way you respond to your children’s emotions, especially if you were raised in the “I’ll give you something to cry about” School of Parenting.
But approaching your kids’ feelings with empathy and understanding helps improve their emotional intelligence by teaching them to be mindful of all of their emotions, even the ones that drive you bonkers.
For those of you toilet training for Harvard, take heart: studies have found that 90% of top performers at work are high in emotional intelligence. They even make more money.
Now, this doesn’t excuse them from behaving properly for the situation. No eight-year-old should have a meltdown in the candy aisle at the supermarket, and you shouldn’t endorse your teen’s extending of a middle finger and shouting, “Yipee Ki-yay, mother…” well you know. Separate out the feeling from the behavior, and it gets easier to handle.
No matter how old your kids are now, you can start being mindful of their emotions so they will, too. In the long run, that makes everyone happy.
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