When our little kids react emotionally to certain situations, it’s quite common to hear adults denying their feelings.
Child: “Mummy, I don’t want to go to school! It is boring!”
Me: “School is not boring, it’s fun! It is so interesting!”
Child: “No, it’s not fun at all.”
Me: “Of course you don’t mean that. You’ll see, once you go back to school, you’ll totally enjoy it.”
Child: “Mummy, I don’t feel tired. I don’t want to nap.”
Me: “How can that be? Of course you are tired. We just had a full day… with a playdate, swimming, shopping…you need to nap.”
Child: “But mummy…”
Me: “Let’s go take a nap right now.”
Granted, I have my own hidden agenda. I really need my me-time (so you’d better nap!). There is a fine line between doing what’s best for your child, and completely ignoring their feelings. Can you imagine how this conversation might look like if you had a chat with your colleague who just shared about their most exhausting, challenging day at work ever… and all you said was, “That’s nothing really. Imagine what it was for me last week!”
Most of time, we really just want someone to actively listen to us whenever we want to express our feelings. Whether it is sadness, anger, frustration, happiness… our emotions feel validated when someone just nods, and says, “I hear you.” The most unhelpful thing to say when your child is screaming in anger, is to ask him, “Why are you feeling this way?” Most times, I realised that children cannot really verbalize the reasons they feel distressed. However, if I react calmly, acknowledge their feelings, and speak once everyone has calmed down, it helps a lot. I love this phrase that I learnt in The Parenting Toolbox course, “Strike while the iron is cold.”
So, how can we help children deal with their emotions? Here are some tips that we can practice, as parents.
1. Turn towards them, give them eye contact and listen.
2. You can acknowledge their feelings by naming it… for example, “That sounds really frustrating!”
3. Be careful not to jump into giving advice too quickly.
4. If a child says hurtful things to us, like “I hate you!”, you can state your own feelings too, “I didn’t like what I just heard. If you are angry at me about something, you can tell it to me in another way.”
5. Debrief about an emotional incident when everyone is calmer. This is where you can evaluate a situation together and talk about what happened.
Remember that listening to their feelings does not mean that you advocate some negative behaviour that you dislike. It is about allowing your child to feel heard, instead of bottling their feelings within themselves. When our children learn how to be better communicators, eventually, they’ll know how to share their feelings with their future spouse too. It’s important we do not judge them but allow them to express themselves freely.