Read on to learn the emotional needs of a child and how you can help them through their feelings.
I’ll never forget the habit I started that made the biggest difference in my kids feelings.
Actually… to tell you the truth, it was a habit that I stopped.
When my kids were crying and fussing and whining… I stopped trying to distract them.
When my kids were angry and outraged at injustice… I stopped trying to solve their problems.
And when my kids were unhappy about a rule or chore they needed to do… I stopped trying to convince them to be happy about it.
Basically, I started viewing their emotions as something they needed to work through, not something I needed to manage.
The Emotional Needs Of A Child
Let’s dig into what our children need emotionally to be able to make generous, compassionate, loving choices.
So without further ado…
Kids Need Permission To Feel What They Feel
If you try to make your child feel something they don’t feel, the end result will be that it does not work. They may even feel MORE of that negative emotion you were trying to get them to cover up.
Children simply cannot ignore what they feel in an effort to feel the way you want.
And you can’t do it either.
“The bad feelings need to be let out before the good feelings can be let in.” (slight paraphrase from Haim Ginott and Liberated Parents, Liberated Children)
We moved last weekend.
We’ve owned the house a few months, but were doing some renovation work and so we hadn’t moved. The days leading up to the move, my daughter had nightly crying sessions at bedtime because she didn’t want to move.
At first I was compassionate, then I was annoyed, then I got downright frustrated.
Here I was running myself ragged getting the house ready needing Ashwagandha to cope with the stress, not to mention the months (years!) we’d spent saving for the new house… and this child was going on and on about how she did not want me to be excited to move.
Well, I decided to put into practice some of my Language of Listening™ skills.
“Baby, of course you don’t want to move! You love it here, it’s your home. You don’t care about the new house because it’s not home yet.
You don’t have to pretend to be excited, it’s okay to feel how you feel. You need to get all those sad feelings out if you ever hope to enjoy the new house.”
The evening of our move arrived. In the car, on the way to the new house to spend the night I hear my darling from the backseat… “Mom, I’m actually excited to spend the night at the new house! It’s gonna be great!”
We can’t expect our children to ignore bad feelings and just feel good ones.
It doesn’t work that way for you and it doesn’t work that way for them.
But, interestingly enough, if you help them feel understood in whatever way they are feeling, they’ll soon be freed up to make choices that align with your family values.
Kids Need To Feel A Level Of Power
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret that I only just figured out, but that counselors and psychologists have known for decades.
- Feelings of powerless lead to all types of undesirable and dysfunctional behaviors.
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you didn’t like what was going on, but felt completely powerless to change it… then you know what I’m talking about.
It makes you feel crazy, insane!, angry, vengeful, spiteful, and desperate.
Children who, day in and day out, are not given an appropriate level of power begin to get the Squirms. They talk rudely, yell, do things to get your attention, whine and cry to make sure they’re heard, become aggressive because they no longer have good impulse control, and on and on.
If your child will completely Flip Out and Lose It at the drop of a hat… they are very likely feeling powerless.
In fact, it’s often why kids are defiant.
You don’t need to relinquish inappropriate control over to your child, but you can help your child feel their own sense of personal power in a way that doesn’t infringe upon your own boundaries and limits as a parent.
- Ask your children what they think about something. Listen to their opinions without judgment.
- Give two or three choices (all of which you are okay with).
- Let your child feel their feelings with intensity. If it’s too much inside the house, let them go outside and scream or stomp. And, if they’ve got a lot of anger, don’t ask them to stuff it down, give them a way to get it out that you are okay with.
- Allow them to solve problems on their own. Even toddlers and preschoolers can find interesting solutions to their dilemmas. Don’t always rush in and change their methods. This tells them you don’t think they’re capable.
- Let them like what they like and dislike what they dislike. Allowing your child to “not like” broccoli, for example, is extremely empowering to them. You may require them take a bite, fine, but acknowledging your child’s preferences helps them feel a stronger sense of their own identity.
Kids Need To Feel You Can Handle Their Emotions
We don’t need to be cyborg mothers, always happy, smiling, and baking cookies.
Of course, we need to be real and vulnerable and direct.
And we don’t need all the answers or to be the perfect mothers… but we do need to be able to handle their emotions without making it All About Us.
If kids sense that we always make their issues about us, they learn to react and act in a way they think we want. They’ll stuff their feelings, they’ll lie so they don’t have to disappoint us, or they’ll say the things they know we want to hear.
Some practical examples of how to “stay out” of our kids’ feelings:
- Letting our children feel all the ugly feelings (so they’ll then be able to feel the positive ones) without trying to distract them. “Don’t cry, here have a popsicle!“
- Not taking things personally. If our child throws a fit in Wal-Mart, we can calmly handle the underlying root of the fit, not completely lose it because we’re embarrassed about what others think of us.
- Not doing everything we can to make their pain go away. Sometimes your child needs to talk. And they don’t need you to correct, fix, or offer solutions. They need to say they can’t stand their sibling or they wish the baby wasn’t born or they like daddy better than you. These things are words put towards a fleeting feeling and if you Freak Out or assume they are Sociopaths or Unloving then you won’t be able to handle it calmly. And you will have made their feelings about your feelings.
Basically… emotions are neutral, let’s not make them bad
If your child says something that freaks you out (and they will), help them feel understood.
If your child does something that seems out of character (and they will), dig deeper and find the root.
And, if your child’s emotions seem out of control and mysterious to you (and they will), be encouraged… a listening ear is often the very best thing you can give them.