Ask any parent and they will tell you that their children’s feelings can come and go like the weather: Exuberance one moment, anguish the next. Negative emotional states can feel contagious, like vacuums sucking us into a whirlwind of negative self-talk about our inabilities as parents. On the other hand, positive feelings may lead to more cooperative moments and can have us patting ourselves on the back for a parenting job well-done.
The truth is that our children, like all humans, have the right to their feelings and a need to express them. As parents, it’s incredibly tough not to take their feelings personally. We often use them as a gauge to measure our success with this whole complex parenting puzzle, feeling like failures when we aren’t able to “soothe” or “redirect” or “control” them. We wind up fighting with our children’s feelings and sending a message that they are not welcome.
What if we re-framed our children’s negative emotional expression as the healthy process of releasing built-up stress they carry throughout the course of a busy day? We all need to unburden our hearts by expressing our feelings. When children feel safe sharing the whole spectrum of emotions with the important people in their lives -- who listen rather than trying to “change” their feelings -- they are better able to manage them without the addition of negative self-evaluation or shame.
Slumberkins’ newest product, The Feels, does just this. It can be included in your child’s comfort corner, as well as classrooms and therapy offices, as a tool that invites children to befriend and listen to their feelings. The book takes readers on a journey alongside Yeti with the goal of understanding her Feels’ needs, hopes and fears, and learning the best ways to take care of them. Children will soon discover that each of The Feels has an important role to play in Yeti’s life -- from keeping her safe to helping her signaling to others she needs connection. They are signposts pointing her in the direction of growth and resiliency.
- Builds awareness of your child’s emotional experiences by prompting them to pay attention to their thoughts and body sensations.
- Validates their feelings as okay and healthy, as “friends” we need to accept and get to know in order to understand what they need.
- Offers concrete tools for coping with the whole spectrum of Feels.
- Creates space between emotional reactions and behavioral responses, building self-management and self-regulation skills.
- Teaches the importance of self-kindness and compassion when tougher feelings arise.
With time, practicing the skills offered in The Feels encourages collaboration instead of combativeness with emotions, teaching children (and us adults!) to listen without judgment to what our feelings have to say so we can decide the best course of action to take.
What can we do as parents?
It may not be enough to tell our children, “It’s okay to feel mad, but it’s not okay to hurt anyone with words or your body when you feel this way.” We also have to model healthy expression of negative emotions. Destruction and opposition are not feelings. They are behaviors that our big, uncomfortable feelings bring about. However, it’s often hard to separate the two and many children believe deeply that certain feelings are “bad” and not welcomed. They push away and disown certain feelings, which can lead to shame, self-criticism or emotional explosions.
We know that children learn so much through modeling. The way we respond to our own emotions sets a strong example and builds important networks in our children’s brains. We can nurture our own feelings alongside our children using The Feels and the reflective questions offered in the Emotional Well-being Curriculum.
Remember, this takes practice!
- We must patiently allow our children to feel whatever arises and accept the feeling no matter what side of the emotional spectrum it’s on.
- We can accept the feelings while setting limits on hurtful behavior using simple statements like, “I see you’re disappointed. But I can’t let you hit me.” Respectfully but firmly setting limits around behaviors provides a sense of safety through boundary setting while letting our children know that we love them even when they are upset.
- We must monitor our own internal and external responses, use our own self-soothing skills and trust that our kiddos have what it takes to move through an emotion without us “fixing”, “solving”, “controlling”, or “correcting” it.
- We can get curious about the purpose of our feelings and learn to see them as guides, rather than things to be avoided.