Life As a Child Part 3
Helping children to talk about their feelings.
A lot of the challenges discussed in Part 2 are a symptom of our culture and the way we all live our lives. There are ways we can help our children navigate these difficulties so their true self can be seen, acknowledged and loved.
Firstly we need to validate their feelings, frequently parents skip this part and go straight to helping the child feel better or work out what they need to do to resolve a problem. That’s what many parents are great at and yes, keep doing it! You child does need that, but first, start with,
“Gosh that’s sounds like a really difficult feeling your’e having.” This might invite your child to say more about it.
You can continue encouraging them to say more about the feeling with phrases such as,
“That is a really big feeling.”
“When we have big feelings it can be hard to think straight.”
“Sometimes we don’t know what the feeling is but we feel very heavy/fizzy/wobbly/empty inside.” (Find a word that describes sensations that could be associated with the emotion you think your child had or is having).
“It’s okay to feel really angry, I would feel angry too if that happened to me.”
“Your feeling was letting you know something wasn’t right and you needed help.”
Stay responsible for our own feelings
Sometimes it can be really tempting to say to children something like, “Your behaviour makes me feel sad.” I would really encourage us to all take responsibility for our own feelings and not lead our child down the path of thinking what they do, think or say directly makes us feel a certain way. Of course, we do have feelings in response to our children’s behaviour but they need to know we remain capable of regulating ourselves. We can help them to express themselves in whatever way they need to without us shutting it down because of how we feel.
Sometimes as a parent we need to get our own counselling to cope with feelings that may be getting stirred up in us from our child’s behaviour. Doing our own emotional self care such as talking to friends, talking to a therapist, seeking help or taking time out for ourselves will help us to be emotionally available for our child. When we are not reactive, instead of saying, “Your behaviour makes me feel sad,” we can say “I’m really wondering how you’re feeling inside when you do that, I’m guessing you might be having a difficult feeling and you’re trying to let me know.”
Model how to talk about feelings
It can be really useful for our children if we model how to talk about feelings and what it is like to have big feelings. Frequently we expect children to talk about their feelings when they’ve never heard anyone in their family or anywhere else do so, so how on earth can they learn to do this! We do not want to overly share our feelings with our children, of course, but small references to feelings can normalise them such as,
“I’m so angry that car pushed in front of us, I know it’s not a big deal but I got scared for a moment and that made me really angry.” You can follow it up with, “Does that ever happen to you, that you get scared and then the scared feeling turns into anger?”
“I feel nervous about my job interview today, I have this fluttery feeling in my tummy that’s letting me know I’m a bit worried, I’ve had this feeling before though and I know I’ll be fine, sometimes it’s a bit of excitement too.”
In both examples I am also letting the child know I can handle the feeling so it is nothing they need to be concerned about.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
In reality a lot of these ways of parenting are new to many as we were not parented in this way ourselves. It can take practice, sometimes we try something that really works and other times it completely falls flat. It can help to have support to talk through scenarios, reflect on what might really be going on for our child and how to respond. This is a service I offer through my ‘parent support’ and many child counsellors or child psychotherapists will offer a similar service.