Why you should talk to your children about your feelings?
I have been leading parenting workshops for several years now. The first workshop of the ‘How to talk so parents will listen, how to listen so children will talk’ is about the importance of acknowledging children’s feelings. We discuss how children react when their feelings are dismissed in various ways and how to start listening to them even when they might not seem realistic or justified to us.
While parents are always eager to start using these techniques with their children and come back with very good comments on how this changed their relationships’ dynamic and how happy they are with the progress, I noticed one thing: while parents are so willing to accept and help their children with their hard feelings they are usually not as kind to themselves…
Often, I hear things like ‘I was so angry but I really tried to remain calm’, ‘I didn’t raise my voice but I really wanted to’, ‘I was sad and I didn’t want my children to know so I went into the bathroom to cry so they couldn’t see me’.
Why is it that we are so willing to accept emotions in our children but trying so hard to suppress them in ourselves?
What does hiding our emotions from our children mean for us and for them?
First of all, let’s clarify what I mean by talking or showing emotions: ALL EMOTIONS ARE VALID but not all behaviors. It is perfectly fine to be angry, it is not however, to be aggressive, physically or verbally abusive.
When trying to constantly repress our emotions in front of our children we are not only depriving them of a valuable experience of what emotions feel and look like (if Mom is very red, and saying in a very loud voice ‘I am furious!’ then the child not only learns what furious means, looks like and that it is OK to sometimes be furious, because after a while Mom goes back to being calm and happy.) but also that everyone feels angry/sad/ irritated sometimes...
Imagine being the child of a parent who never loses his/her temper, never cries, never feels down or upset. What would it mean for you as a child if you did have these feelings? Would you feel normal and free to have and accept them or would you try your best to suppress them to remain calm at all cost as you saw your parents do?
Dealing with unpleasant emotions is hard enough as it is without adding to it a layer of guilt for the way you are feeling. When accepting your own emotions and dealing with them in a healthy way, you are teaching your children a very valuable lesson as well.
So please, Dear Parents, be true to yourselves. Teach your children that yes, mommy can be mad at daddy sometimes but they still love each other, that when Mom says she is really frustrated at having to repeat herself for everyone to listen, she won’t withdraw her love or her attention, she is just dealing with a difficult emotion. Show them that they actually have power over their own feelings and that of others. They can make mom smile with a kind word or by helping when they see her too busy. They are not powerless in the face of emotions that sometimes threaten to overtake them nor in the emotions they can create in others.
Yes, it can be hard to be so honest with our children. To admit that we aren’t perfect, we don’t have all the answers, and we also lose control sometimes. But this is all part of being a human being and it is better learned at an early age. The faster we learn how to understand our feelings and accept them as normal instead of trying to push them aside, the better we know ourselves.
We are our children’s first role models and this is such an easy and natural thing to teach them if we just become conscious of it.
So, parents, just like we discussed naming your child’s feelings for them, go ahead and name yours as well. Whether you feel good or bad. Free yourselves from your own expectations of being a perfect parent, and settle for being a human one.