Did you hear Washington National’s outfielder, Bryce Harper’s answer last week to a reporter’s question? He was asked whether or not he was going to go out for a beer after the game. Harper is underage and answered the question with great self-possession. He quipped smoothly and efficiently, “That’s a clown question, bro.”
Underneath Harper’s cool answer was a message. He knew what he felt and clearly no one was going to trip him up.
My goal for all kids is for them to know, intrinsically what they think and feel and to be able to express it clearly to others.
How do we make that happen? By being our children’s emotional coaches so they can develop their own ability to know themselves.
Below are a few ideas to get you started:
Don’t deny or ignore a child’s feelings: We’ve all done it at one time or another but saying, “You’re not sad” to a child who is crying or,”stop whining” when we don’t want to hear it makes a person feel unseen. It also does little to help a child learn to cope with their intense feelings. Instead, describe what you see. If you say, “I see a little girl who looks sad” it won’t actually make your child feel worse. Rather, it will most certainly help her feel understood and heard. Give your child tools so she knows what to do when she is feeling upset.
Look for and comment on the emotion that is underlying the behavior: The next time your child protests unduly about leaving the park say to him, “It can be so hard leaving when we are having so much fun.” Validating his experience can help him to get through a tough time.
Talk about the behavior, not the person and describe the problem: Children take what we say very seriously which is why when we are feeling displeased it is useful to separate out the behavior from the person. For example, saying, “I see a bedroom with clothes and toys all over the floor” expresses your displeasure and gives the child information at the same time. It is much more likely to elicit a helpful response than, “This room is a mess, you are so sloppy!”
Consider your first family: How were feelings handled in the family you grew up in? Do certain feelings make you uncomfortable? Exploring these questions and developing your own awareness can help you as you help your child navigate his or her emotions.
All feelings are okay it’s what we do with our feelings that matters. Be your children’s emotional coach and watch them go.