Feeling Your Feelings
In a recent article of mine for a magazine I write a parenting column for, I talked about the importance of emotions and their regulation, in children. I have always been a firm believer in letting yourself experience emotions and bring to the fore-front whatever you are feeling. Suppressing a certain emotion instead of dealing with it only hinders growth and creates long-term psychological effects. This applies not only to adults but to children as well. One of the most common answers we receive from mothers when asked “what do you want the most for your child?” is “we want them to be happy.” The best sound for a parent is of their child laughing. Before I became a mother myself, when I heard someone else say this I remember thinking to myself that this is something I too would want. It is after all what every mother wants for their child. One of the many lessons I have learned after becoming a mother, is the misguided desire of wanting our children to be happy, can hamper their development.
My 3.8-year-old son who has a personality very much like his father, has a talent of making intense situations calm. If he realises that a certain situation is becoming too serious, he starts making jokes. I have always been in complete awe of this trait because not many adults themselves possess it. Even when expressing his dislike for something, he does so in a very humorous manner. A few weeks ago, in his usual style he expressed his dislike for a certain situation to another child by saying “I’m sad”. The other child in response replied that his mother had told him that it is not good to be sad and that he must always be happy. So, when my son came home, the first question to me as he walked in through the door before even removing his shoes was “mama, is it wrong to be sad?” Till that moment, this was not something that had ever occurred to me would arise as a topic of conversation with my preschooler, however the wheels started turning in my head. From the time he was a toddler, his school had introduced the children to the various emotions by acting out ‘happy face’, ‘sad face’ and so on. This was something I believed was an important part of personality development. However, on hearing his question, my responsibility just then was to explain to him that the key to being a happy child did not necessarily mean being happy 100% of the time.
One of the secrets I have learned in the journey of parenting is that it serves our children well to teach them how to tolerate being unhappy. Teaching them that being unhappy or sad is bad altogether results in creating fragile children and young adults who break easily. There are a range of emotions between being happy and sad that many of us tend to forget. Frustration, anger, disappointment, fear, failure and so on are all emotions that we wish our children will never experience. However, is that serving them well? My answer would be no. When I see my elder son cry, it takes incredible strength to not immediately say “stop crying” as I do not want him to get the impression that crying is unacceptable. It has taken repeated strict lectures to myself to now be able to say, “I know you are sad so cry, get it all out and then we can talk.” Helping our children master the skill of working through their emotions one step at a time is crucial. They also copy our behaviour so if they see their parents managing their emotions well, they will learn to do so as well. This builds inner strength and resilience in them.
Working through feelings is a great life skill. When your child is sad, denying that they are sad and saying they should be happy all the time won’t send their feelings away, but will only suppress them for that moment in time. An alternate method would be to engage in various activities addressing emotions like emotion flashcards, with them. Knowing their parents think that being sad is wrong, will result in them denying any negative emotions they are feeling rather than learning to regulate them. Very often, it is the parents’ inability to handle their child’s sadness that results in them trying to protect their child from any hurt; it is typical of how we parent today.
I strongly believe that one of the best gifts we can give our children is emotional management and not emotional protection. Navigating life and everything it throws at you, then becomes that much easier.