We experience a wide range of emotions, happiness, sadness, fear, anger. However, there is an increasing stress on one or some emotions being either important or positive and the others being negative. While we as parents celebrate or encourage some feelings, some other feelings are avoided or stifled. For example, happiness may be considered as a positive emotion and anger or sadness may be considered as a negative emotion. Through messages like “Strong boys don’t cry” or “Good children don’t get angry” caregivers may be invalidating feelings which they think are unacceptable to be experienced.
Psychologists have pointed out that invalidating a child’s feeling might distract the child temporarily but the feelings persist and remain unresolved. This can turn out to be limiting for them even after they turn into adults.
Responses that encourage Emotional wellbeing
Acknowledging the feelings
By acknowledging children’s feelings be it sadness, fear or anger, they learn to feel okay with their feelings. Acknowledging is not about finding solutions, but making them feel understood.It encourages children to be authentic in their expression of feelings rather than hiding them.
Permission to feel
When a child feels an emotion and lacks the permission to do so the parents can affirm his/her right to do so. Telling children “It’s ok to feel your feelings”, “I know this can be scary” helps them to acknowledge their feelings.
Modeling Healthy Expression
Many parents avoid expressing fear or sadness in front of the children and are suppressing their own feelings. An environment of free, healthy expression of feelings in the here and now fosters the children’s emotional well being and the parents’ too.
Invitation to Discussions
Inviting children into discussions helps them open up. Being genuinely interested and asking questions like “What makes you angry?” or “Can I know what is making you sad?” in a non-judgmental manner facilitates expression. Further, children can be encouraged to explore for themselves suitable ways of expressing their feelings.
Feelings, their expression and beliefs around feelings get shaped during formative years. It is important for children to feel all their feelings and deal with them, and also experience from their caregivers that their feelings are valid and important. As parents, caregivers or educators how we respond to these expressions can make a difference in children’s understanding of themselves and their feelings.
About the Author
Sapna Sajan is a psychotherapist practising Transactional Analysis. She is trained in NLP, Gestalt and Psychodrama and integrates all these streams in her work. Sapna was an HR professional before she quit her corporate work when her son was born. Post that she found he interest in Transactional Analysis. Sapna works with a range of issues in therapy; her primary interest lies in working with parents, more so parents of children with special needs or developmental delays. She is also an entrepreneur, running her Organic store by the name “My Goodness” in Bangalore.