Children and Feelings
By heatherferreiracole, Sep 15 2015 11:14AM
It appears that society has been cruel on parents over the years, and parents can be stuck with a great deal of shame for a child not acting the way we would like them to in certain situations. From the shy child who doesn’t want to say hello/goodbye to the important visitor, to the child who is having the most enormous tantrum in the supermarket, there seems to be a parental shame of not being able to take out into society the picture perfect family.
And the hilarity of it is that the picture perfect family simply does not exist, and yet the large majority of us voluntarily buy into that image somehow, perhaps wondering when it is going to be our turn.
How did that happen?
The media may have set up the perfect family as an ideal but it is up to us whether we choose to buy into that ideal or whether we choose to sack that off and start living and supporting each other in the reality that we are all standing in.
We need to stop collectively busting our tennis balls to try and make something that doesn’t exist into a reality. All this does is encourage us to fake it so we end up showing the world a smiling, bright, happy face that reflects very little of what we are feeling inside and this, as a side effect, wrecks havoc on our children, who are distracted into anything but the disaster of publicly showing any negative feelings at all.
We cannot ask a child to ignore the vast array of human emotions inside of them, especially when we ask more of them than we ask of ourselves on most given days. Think about how much of a difference a change of boss has on our working lives and yet each year a child has to contend with a new class teacher. A new boss – every year. Sometimes they will get lucky, sometimes their year will be awful and they will be relying on every coping mechanism they can get their hands on.
Imagine having a challenging boss, a pain in the backside colleague at work and your project has just not worked the way you wanted it to. Later that day whilst in the park you drop your i-phone and it crashes to the floor, smashing into little pieces. It is the last straw and you are feeling at the end of what you can cope with and as you look up at the people around you for support, you notice how some of them have started urging you to quickly look at the airplane in the sky or the pretty bird in the tree, others are shoving chocolate in your hands or promising you ice-cream to make you feel better and others are simply telling you “never mind (i.e. it isn’t that big a deal), stop crying now” before they start another conversation.
Then imagine that you have very little capacity to comprehend everything that is going on within you and are just left with the need to scream at the adult who isn’t realising the enormity of your “temporary life crash” and who just wants you to stop because it is inconvenient/embarrassing/not the projection of the ideal that they would like to see.
When we tell a child to stop crying inevitably in those moments like it or not we are giving them the message; “your negative feelings are not ok and I don’t want to see them.” This leads to low self-esteem, I am not worthy of love unless I show the world I am happy.
When we choose to distract our child (look at the airplane) with everything but their feelings we are teaching them “when feeling any negative feelings you can use your head to distract/disconnect you from your feelings”. Anxiety, compulsive disorders and addictions are based on this coping mechanism.
When we feed our children to make them feel better when they are feeling intense emotions we are teaching them “eating food will make you feel better when you experience uncomfortable emotions”. Unhealthy relationships with food are usually the result of this one.
People sometimes think that to allow a child to wallow in their feelings is to indulge them unnecessarily, but I see it differently. I see that we learn everything through practice and learning about our feelings is no different. As parents we are teaching our children ways to cope in life that allow them to live in reality as whole people who do not have to sacrifice the parts of them that are "socially unacceptable". We can support them, guide them and walk them through with the acceptance that sometimes life is hard but we can slow down and find a way through that accepts all of our emotions in the process.