While everyone has a right to their feelings, they do not have the right to express those feelings in ways that hurt others. For example, these are some inappropriate expressions of feelings:
- “You’re stupid!”
- “You’re a mean Mommy!”
- “I hate you!”
- Hitting, biting, shoving, kicking
- Posting mean comments on social media
When children choose inappropriate behavior, start by acknowledging the feeling you believe is behind the behavior. For example, “You are angry that your brother took your truck so you hit him.” Next suggest a better way to express the emotion, “It’s not OK to hit him. You can tell him you are angry and let him know what you want him to do.
Feelings are neither right nor wrong. For example, if teens are feeling rejected by peers, their feelings are valid. Listening to them talk about how they are feeling can help them process those feelings and decide what action to take. How they choose to act on those feelings may or may not be OK.
Trying To Avoid Negative Feelings Is Costly
Everyone experiences emotional pain; it’s part of being human. It’s also very human to try to avoid these negative feelings by numbing them. What your kids may not realize is that numbing the painful emotions also numbs the positive ones.
Trying to avoid emotional pain may lead to disastrous results. Some harmful ways kids try to numb emotional pain include things like:
- Drinking, taking drugs
- Cutting oneself
- Seriously restricting food intake
- Injuring someone else or an animal
- Committing suicide
While these actions may temporarily or permanently numb the emotional pain, teaching kids to honestly express their difficult emotions gives them better options. When you allow kids to express their negative feelings, they learn how to talk through their pain rather than try to bury it. Is it easy to listen to someone else’s pain? No!
Saying things like “Stop crying!
” or “You’re not really hurt.
” teaches kids that expressing emotions like sadness or anger is not OK. However, when children's feelings are validated, they feel understood and recover more quickly. They learn that they can handle difficult feelings and eventually experience relief.
Remember your job is to listen to your children, not to solve their problems. They need to figure out what action to take although you may be able to help them think through consequences of the actions they are considering. Being able to trust you with their most difficult feelings is a life-long gift for your children. You can provide hope and guidance as they maneuver through life’s inevitable challenges.