I remember, at age 9, I declared I would never forget what it felt like to be 9. Each year after, I reminded myself.....I will never be one of those adults who can't remember how it feels to be a kid.
I often felt, misunderstood.
I often felt out of control.
I felt voiceless.
I felt angry.
I didn't feel I had a right to.....FEEL.
My misguided attempts at showing how I felt at any given time, were met with anger, discipline, and usually a blow up big enough that I learned my lesson......feeling was not okay. I needed to get it together.
This was not the lesson my parents wanted me to learn. Of this, I am sure. They wanted me to show respect. They wanted me to know my place. They wanted me to deal with my feelings, in a healthy, productive way. The problem was....they didn't deal with their feelings in a healthy, productive way. They weren't taught healthy coping skills, so we weren't taught healthy coping skills. I mean, let's be honest, "healthy coping skills" weren't a top priority in a lot of families when we were growing up. But when you know better you do better right?
Now we know.... it's a cycle. If we fail to recognize the cycle, we fail to connect with our children.
The reality is....many parents aren't comfortable with feelings.
"Don't get so worked up".
"Go to your room until you can get a hold of yourself".
These are all ways we discard the uncomfortableness of feelings. These are all statements to give us the perception that we have control. We don't.
Feelings are feelings. They aren't bad, or good....right or wrong.
They just are.
We get taken off guard by feelings, when they come from our kids. Considering we have been having feelings since we were born, one would think that we would go straight to empathy.....one would be wrong. Our reaction can be largely dictated by how we were received when we had intense feelings. Were we taught that our feelings were expected....even welcomed?
Yes, of course....good feelings are always welcome aren't they?
We welcome happy.
We welcome proud.
We welcome loving.
We welcome excited.
But it's how we deal with the not so positive feelings that define us as a parent. What are the messages our children are receiving about their negative feelings? Are they allowed to have negative feelings?
How do we deal when our kids are sad? "Stop crying".
How do we deal when our kids are mad? "Do you need to go to your room to calm down"?
How do we deal when our kids are frustrated? "You need to relax"!
When my kids were little, dealing with their feelings, seemed much easier. Smaller children don't have as much expectation on them to "handle their feelings" in an appropriate manner, that we deem acceptable. We tend to expect the tantrums, and the meltdowns. They even give us a chance to shine our parenting light! Let's use that knowledge we just brushed up on in the parenting book we were reading. Looky there.....it works! That isn't to say it is easy, by any stretch of the imagination....just different.
Then, our little sweet buttercups become tweens and teens. Their feelings become a bit more convoluted. Their feelings aren't so easy to figure out. Their feelings show themselves in behavior a bit more. That behavior can look disrespectful and just like that, our sweet little buttercups have turned into sassholes.
Those sassholes can elicit bad behavior from us as parents....depending on how comfortable with feelings we are. Time to ask ourselves some hard questions.
What are the cycles in your family of origin around feelings?
How did your parents deal with their own feelings?
Are you proud of how you deal with your own feelings?
Do you mistake mad, sad, or overwhelmed for "disrespectful" before it ever gets to that point?
Do you make room for negative feelings in your house?
Have you taught your children coping skills for negative feelings?
Do you get in a battle for control?
You guys....negative feelings take up a lot of space. If we don't handle our own negative feelings appropriately, then how can we expect our children to know how to handle theirs?
I work with many kids in my practice as a psychotherapist, and a phrase I use a lot is "start with the heart" when helping them identify what they are feeling.
In my home, I am raising a 14 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. On a regular basis, I get attitude from my teen and tween. This is the norm. I wish I could say, it doesn't happen in my house because I am all buttoned up.
Nope. It happens.
We love each other through it.
First I take a deep breath. I get to the root of what I am feeling. Because until I am under control, I can not be expected to have a mindful lens to look through.
Then....I start with the heart......
What might my child be feeling underneath all that sass?
What might have gone wrong in their day to elicit this meltdown?
How might they feel out of control right now?
I kneel down to where they are (or up in the case of my 5'6 teenage son).
I put my hand on their back, their leg or wherever they will allow.
I create a connection....remind them they are loved, no matter how they feel right now.
Then, I take all of my good advice. All of my "fixing" behavior....and all of my umpteen years of psychology education and I stuff it.
I choose instead to just name their feeling for them. Just reflect with them on how hard it is to feel this way. I talk about the emotion instead of shining a light on the behavior and how wrong they were for talking to me that way. For a moment, I am in their feeling with them.
Slowly, they soften. We begin to change our alliances. We are working together on figuring out these things called feelings.
We are on the same team.
They have just been validated.
We can now learn new coping skills around these feelings.
This doesn't eradicate all bad behavior. This doesn't turn our sassholes into buttercups forever.
What this does, is help preserve the coveted relationship with our growing children.
What this does, is help our children understand that we all have feelings, it's what we do with those feelings that determines our path in life.
What this does, is position us....as parents in the role of mentor. Look at me....I too, have overwhelming feelings, and I too have to have healthy coping skills to deal effectively with those feelings.
What this does, is create a partnership on their journey. It opens the door to talk about our feelings instead of wish them away or act like they don't exist.
What this does, is.....pave a path for empathy. The more empathetic we are to our children's feelings, the more empathetic they will be towards themselves and others in the future. Thereby making relationships easier for them down the road.....all relationships, even the one with themselves.
That's the goal isn't it?