All the Feels
We all have those days. We all have those days where a seemingly small thing sets us off, or we are feeling a little down, or we get frustrated, or we have a conflict with our partner...
This is normal. Emotions are normal. We are human and unlike the Rom-Com, sometimes we face challenges and stumble before we can handle them with poise and grace.
As people, we need to give ourselves space to feel and to be human. As parents, we need to model that having emotions are okay and normal.
Too often, I hear parents tell a frustrated child, "Don't cry" or "there's no reason to be upset"or "good girls/boys don't cry/yell/scream". Although, I'm sure these comments are well-intentioned and meant to calm an upset kid (and frustrated parent), they are misguided. How do we feel when someone asks us to smile when we are feeling upset, or otherwise disregards our emotions? It makes us feel worse.
I will say it again: emotions are NORMAL, emotions are HEALTHY and emotions are REAL.
Our kids feel very real emotions, and we need to show and teach that these emotions are valid. If we instruct our children to "Stop Crying!", we would be, in effect, shaming them for having feelings. We would be teaching them NOT to be vulnerable, NOT to open up to loved ones. Instead, when our children are feeling frustrated, we need to approach them with love and support. We need to embrace them and ask, without judgement, to try and tell us what they are feeling and work through those feelings together.
Learning to find the root cause for these strong feelings is the first step to managing these emotions in a healthy, productive way.
When my toddlers get frustrated with each other (as toddler sisters are apt to do), I sit down with the aggressor and try to help her understand why the other one is driving her nuts. Then, I sit down with the instigator and we discuss why her actions are not appreciated in this moment. Then, all together, we find acceptable alternatives to releasing that anger. We all practice yelling "I AM ANGRY! I AM SO MAD!" and we practice stomping our feet and hitting pillows. More often than not, these pretend angry gestures devolve into giggles and smiles.
When frustrations between them rise again, I have heard one repeat my guidance to the other, and they learn to work through these feelings together.
Other times, at the dinner table, when tears erupt out of seemingly nowhere, I have found great success with gently asking why. Once we establish a safe, non-judgmental space, it becomes easier for them to express what's going on, which makes solving the problem that much simpler. Most of the time, simply translating those feelings into spoken words does wonders for calming the emotions right away, and gives me the tools to resolve the issue at hand.
Equally important to managing our children's emotions in healthy ways, is how we manage our own. Above all, our children learn by modeling our behavior. The way we react to conflict, the way we interact with our partner, the way we manage disappointment are all being studied and memorized. To our kids, we adults have it all figured out, and the way we do things is, by definition, the "right" way. When we are caught up in our own stresses or worries, it's easy to forget that there are eyes on us, taking our reactions as doctrine. How we treat ourselves is how our children will be with themselves.
So, treat yourself with kindness. Feel your emotions, and then give yourself the space you need to work through them. Let your children see you feel, let them see you vulnerable, and then let them see you work through and emerge on the other side.