The parenting message you didn't mean to send
It’s hard to know what to do in the face of your child’s big feelings. Red-faced as they shriek in your direction, little bodies twisting, flailing and falling. Their anger and upset rubbing a raw nerve in you, the overwhelming urge to make it stop.
But what if we could resist that urge?
What if we could learn to step back and let them have their feelings. Even the ones we don’t like so much, in fact especially the ones we don’t like so much. You know the feelings, the ones that most adults struggle to manage.
Anger and sadness.
As parents, we make huge efforts to protect our children from these feelings or to stop them.
Sometimes we do this with the best of intentions but perhaps sometimes we want these feelings to stop because they're uncomfortable or inconvenient for us.
And the message we send?
That these feelings are bad and not to be felt.
Instead of allowing these feelings to just be we distract our children, give them snacks, snap at them or send them to time out.
The lesson they learn? These feelings aren’t okay and the people I love most don’t want me to have them.
Does that sound healthy to you?
Can you see any link between the messages we are given in childhood and the pervasive anxiety and depression in teenagers and adults?
Because it’s normal to be sad. It’s normal to be angry. In fact, sometimes these feelings can be helpful – they give us feedback about our worlds and when listened to carefully can help guide our choices and actions.
What if instead, the message was this;
‘Go ahead, have your feeling. I’ll be right here to help you through it or ready when you’re done having it’
Can you imagine if we had a generation of children who could be sad and still know they’re fundamentally okay? Who could learn to express that feeling in healthy ways?
Who didn’t need to comfort eat or drink? Who didn’t push people away or self-destruct? Who didn’t direct their anger outwards so they didn’t have to feel it? Who could accept that anger and sadness are part of the human condition, normal temporary states of being that give us clues about the path we need to take.
Can you imagine what that generation would be able to achieve?
It’s important not to confuse acceptance with permissiveness. Allowing your child to have a feeling doesn’t mean that all behaviour is appropriate. It’s our job to teach them that while it’s okay to be angry it still isn’t okay to smash a toy car on the baby’s head.
Is this harder than giving a snack or a timeout? Does it take longer?
Parenting this way requires you to have the long game in mind. To know what kind of adult you’re raising. To teach them to feel a level of comfort and acceptance in themselves that perhaps you’ve never been lucky enough to experience.
The reward will come much later. This is what you hold onto in the eye of the storm as the tantrum hits. To understand that you are giving your child an extraordinary gift which will serve them not just today but for a lifetime.