Five Things You Should Never Say About Feelings to Kids
Raphael Cushnir, author of The One Thing Holding You Back had advice for "Five Things You Should Never Say About Feelings to Kids"
Connecting with our emotions for maximum success and well being is the one crucial life skill that almost none of us were ever taught. In fact, most of us learned how to deal with our emotions by watching and imitating our own parents as they made every mistake in the book.
Fortunately, with just a little on the job training, you can avoid passing on those mistakes to your own kids. This training best begins with what not to tell your kids, and here are five of the top blunders.
1. "You shouldn't feel that."
Emotions arise of their own volition, not by choice. Our one real choice regarding emotions is whether to resist or accept them. Even very young children can learn to "ride out"their emotions acceptingly just like adults. Urging them to stuff or change their feelings is telling them it's not okay to be who they are.
Instead, try:* "I know you feel bad. Can you point to where in your body it's the worst? Try putting your hand there. See if you can make a big wide pathway inside yourself so this bad feeling has lots of room to fly right out of you when it's ready."
2. "Get over it, already."
Unpleasant emotions last as long as they need to, and we're not in any more control of their duration than we are their content. If we ride them out without resistance, they depart as quickly as possible. If we try to "get over" them, they'll only last longer.
Instead, try: "It may take a while for this feeling to go away. Is there a way you can help it feel welcome inside you? The better friend you are to it, the nicer it will be to you."
3. "You're too sensitive."
No specific degree of sensitivity is optimum. Some children, by their very nature, will feel things more deeply than others. What's usually objectionable is not the child's actual sensitivity, but rather his or her emotional expression, or acting out. These behaviors can be addressed directly, and to great effect,without ever damning the emotions themselves.
Instead, try: (Before saying anything, get your child to be still for a moment) "It seems like there's a bad feeling inside of you. Where is it right now? It seems mad, maybe a little sad and scared. Is that true? Maybe if you let it know everything's alright it will tell us exactly what it needs."
Parents usually tell this to a child because they, not the child, can't handle the intensity of the feeling. Trying to calm down almost always turns into stuffing the emotions which actually need to be felt. Emotionally intelligent parents help their kids get through an upset by advising them to feel an emotion till it dissipates, leaving a natural, unforced calm in its wake.
Instead, try: "That bad feeling inside you is like a fussy little baby. See if you can use your imagination to make a nice big crib for it. Try rocking it gently in your mind. I bet that baby will calm right down all on its own."
5. "That feeling doesn't make sense."
Feeling aren't always supposed to make sense. In fact, they often provide important information from our internal feedback system that's outside, and in conflict with, our rational thoughts and beliefs.
On the other hand, feelings sometimes do provide feedback that's unreliable or inaccurate. They can be misplaced, or overly intense, both as a result of past conditioning. But in order to evaluate whether that's occurring, we need to feel them for awhile before putting them under the microscope. Teaching our kids to get rational too soon sends a dangerous message that thinking is better than feeling, and that thinking can, or should, be used to get rid of emotions.
Instead try: "If that feeling inside you could talk, what would it say? Let's listen to it with big, patient ears. Oh, that's interesting. Tell it "Thank you for sharing." How does it feel right now? Do you think this is a good time to talk more about all that, or should we wait till you feel a little more peaceful?"
*These suggestions are pitched to children around 4-6, at the developmental stage which includes a growing degree of cognitive understanding but also requires experiential learning more than explanation. For younger and older children, adjust accordingly.