Thinking. How do you feel?
I've been reading more of Naomi Aldort's book Raising our Children, Raising ourselves and have been challenged to take time to listen to how my children feel, instead of a) shutting them down, b) denying that they feel that way, c) telling them they should feel another way or d) telling them their feelings are silly.
Aldort says, "Stopping a child from fully expressing his feelings does not stop the feelings, it only stops their expression. When a child feels unable or unsafe to express himself fully, his feelings accumulate until he is in a state of distress."
Many parents seem unable to deal with their child expressing feelings like pain, anger, jealousy, loneliness or disappointment. We look around and madly either try to fix the problem, or deny the feeling because we can't cope with it.
Aldort argues that instead, we can "calmly listen, validate and let him be. He can then experience himself as capable of handling emotions."
She says that "when a child has been completely heard, his capacity to recover from ordinary emotional hurts is remarkably quick. When he has the freedom to let his feelings be known in the ears of attentive and loving parents or adults, he can spring out of rage and tears into the next play as if nothing has happened."
Perhaps that's what we mean when we say children are resilient. But true resilience means needing to be heard first!
How often do we say things like
- It wasn't that bad!
- What's so upsetting about that?
- I don't see anything wrong with it
- It's not the end of the world
- It's nothing. You're all right.
- Nothing happened.
- It's okay. You're fine.
Better would be things like
- I can see tears running down your face.
- You seem sad.
- It hurts a lot when you fall over and stub your toe!
- I get scared by some things too.
- Are you afraid things will stay this way?
- You wish you could stay at the playground much longer!
- It's disappointing when we have to leave somewhere that you've been enjoying.
- It's a long time to wait!
- I will be with you and you can cry as much as you need to.
Look, it works for me. I'd much rather have someone listen fully to me and be there until I've processed what I'm dealing with than have someone tell me I should think or feel differently or just get over it or ignore it and get on with life.
It's probably a little bit harder for parents to do, because it takes more time, more thought and more being present with our children, but if it helps them cope with and express their own emotions, I'd rather do the work now with them than see them head to a counsellor in later life.