Stop Crying Or I’ll Give You Something To Cry About!
Oct 03, 2016
My grandchild Loki is 10 months old. I just spent two glorious weeks with him in Hawaii and he is without question the happiest baby on Earth. If you go to my Facebook page. I promise you 37 seconds of sheer delight!
Loki laughs with abandon. He also cries with abandon, gets grumpy, tired or hungry, and when he does he lets us know.
Like all babies, he expresses his emotions fully and it never occurs to him to not do so.
Expressing feelings is a natural thing to do, until we let our children know that it’s not okay to yell when they’re angry, or telling them that they’re ungrateful when they don’t want to do what we want them to do. We often tell children that crying is for sissies, that what has made them sad is no big deal, or that they have nothing to cry about (my dad’s favorite phrase). We would often rather they suppressed their feelings (or just had fewer of them), but all this does is invalidate their emotions, make them feel belittled, and prevent healthy expression in the future.
My mom used to tell me I couldn’t be hungry because I just ate, or I couldn’t be tired because I had a good night’s sleep. I was told that I shouldn’t be angry because the friend who hurt me didn’t really mean to. If I cried, she would hand me a cookie. In hindsight I know that is was her love driving her attempts to end my suffering, but this method of trying to cheer me up merely glossed over and invalidated my feelings. When parents get angry and withdraw from their children in response to an expressed emotion, it’s sending the message that it’s not ok to have feelings!
We then grow up with beliefs like:
- I can’t trust myself
- Expressing feelings is dangerous
- If I express my feelings I’ll be rejected
- I’m weak if I have or express feelings
- Conflict is dangerous
- Anger is dangerous
These beliefs result in us not telling people what we feel. We swallow our anger until we’re resentful or until we explode. We allow people to mistreat us and stay in unhealthy relationships because we are afraid to express our true needs. We shut down emotionally and live life by going through the motions.
Having said this, I’m not suggesting you can just dump your feelings on others without considering them too. Let’s look at some skills for communicating your feelings effectively.
The single most important communication skill for dealing with emotions is to validate feelings.
All you have to do when your children (or anyone for that matter) tell you how they feel is to say, I got it, I hear how angry, upset, sad, frustrated, or lonely you feel. And really get it. Make real to yourself how the other person feels at that moment. Don’t just say the words.
Next, teach children to use I messages. Never start a sentence with you and you’ll never get into trouble. Name-calling and character assignations begin with, You always…, You never, You’re mean- as opposed to I feel angry when you won’t let me have dessert. I’m sad because you won’t take me to my friend’s house.
When Brittany was about eight years old she got angry at me and said, I hate you. To which I replied, Wow. You must be really angry at me to feel like you hate me. She looked at me and said, I don’t hate you mommy, I’m just angry. I replied, You’re angry with me, you’re really angry. To which she replied, I’m not angry at you only what you did.
It was amazing! The more I got it and just validated her feelings the more they disappeared. It works. It’s like taking the air out of balloon. Don’t just do this with your children. Try it with your spouse or boss or co-worker. You’ll find that anything can be discussed and worked out once the emotions go away.
If a child is angry it doesn’t mean they don’t respect or love you. It’s the meaning that we give their behavior that causes our reaction not what they did. In other words, if your child tells you he hates you, the meaning you attribute to his words will determine how you cope with it.
So remember that having feelings is a part of being human. We all have them. Even little people have and are entitled to their feelings. Being a safe space for your children to express themselves can not only make a profound difference in their lives but can help them to create a deeper relationship with you. The safer children feel with you, the more they’ll want to be around you. And finally, if they feel safe to express their feelings because you listen without judgment, it is unlikely that they will form any beliefs that will sabotage their ability to experience and express their feelings later in life.