Feelings and Failings

I’m having trouble moving on to the next section of Positive Pushing so I wanted to find something else that I felt was important to learn. What I found was a book called How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. It’s not a bad book, but I don’t want everything here to be so serious that it gets boring.

One of the things I’ve watched parents struggle with is helping children deal with their feelings. I found it relatively easy when I was working at camp, but with Freya it’s a whole new ballpark for me. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve been out of the game so long, or that I just don’t have a lot of experience with wee ones her age.  I remember thinking back in the day that I would be a wonderful parent due to those days at camp, but sometimes I now find myself questioning that.

Still, it was surprising to find that there are a lot of moms out there that have felt the same way.  Living with children is humbling. It’s true. We never know how much easier we had it taking care of other people’s children or babysitting, until we have one or more of our own.  I always promised myself that I would be better than my parents at handling my child’s feelings (not that they were horrible), but now I find myself struggling to figure out how. This is why I picked up this book.

Just like the author when she started learning some of these hard lessons, I found myself swimming in information. I had always known that how a child felt and how they behaved were interlinked. That was child psych 101, but seeing it in your own child is much harder than identifying it in others.  We know that they tend to behave appropriately when they feel okay and somehow we have to help them accept their negative feelings so that they can continue to feel okay. But like most of parenting, and life, it’s always easier said than done.

When the author said that we reject our children’s feelings I thought to myself “I don’t do that do I?” But after continuing on, I realized that I probably miss verbal cues and at some point when Freya is verbal I’ll mess up as well. She may tell me that she is tired and I’ll tell her that she can’t be because she just took a nap. The problem is that she can still feel that way even if she’s taken a nap.  The biggest problem with telling our child that they, for example, aren’t tired, is that we are telling them to ignore their own perceptions.

I looked back on my actions over the last few days I had spent with Freya and realized I was just as guilty of missing her nonverbal cues as the author was of denying her child’s verbal cues in the past.  So I took a note from her book. It’s still a work in process, but I’m trying to look at things more from Freya’s perspective now.  It may not reduce all the problems we’re likely to have over the next twenty years or more, but it might help.

We have to teach our children to accept their feelings and we have to learn to work with those feelings.  However, once we’ve learned to see their feelings under normal circumstances, we have to learn to do it when we are angry or frustrated, which is even harder.  We are, in general, more likely to snap and deny anyone’s feelings when we get angry, frustrated, or defensive.

For example, take a pen and paper and jot down your initial responses to the following questions (if your child said them):

I don’t like the new baby.

I had a dumb birthday party (and after you went above and beyond)

I’m not wearing this stupid (insert item here). It’s uncomfortable and I don’t like it.

I hate my new coach because he yelled at me for being late.

If you found yourself saying things like: Oh you don’t really hate the baby or you had a wonderful birthday party, x can’t be that bad, or you have no right to be bad at the coach, you’ve denied your child’s feelings in their eyes. Remember they’re going to think it’s worse than it is. We say these things to try to help them realize that, rationally, they probably don’t feel that way deep down, but in the moment, a child might. They don’t have the same distinction.

And if you think about it we’ve all been there even as an adult. We’ve all felt one way about something in a moment. The only difference is that we generally realize that it’s due to a current situation and it isn’t our feeling all the time. In those moments our friends might say the same thing in an attempt to help us and we would, most likely react with a similar defensiveness as we’ve seen children display, at least until we’ve cooled down.

Think about it. How do you feel when someone tells you that you have no need to be so upset over x, y, and z? You get defensive or at least upset. Or when someone tells you that life is just like that. I can think of a few moments in which someone said that at the wrong time and my gut instinct was to blow up at them. I didn’t but I felt betrayed. Worse, yet, when your friend defends the person with whom you are currently at odds with. It hurts to have your feelings rejected or seemingly ignored.

There are several more things our friends may say that can put us in a defensive mood and make us feel like those friends who are trying to help us are ignoring our feelings. I’ve had friends ask me if the problem I have with (insert person) is a personal issue. Whether or not that is true in that instance, that doesn’t make it any less insulting. I know that when I’m upset that last thing I want to hear is advice, philosophy, psychology, or the other person’s point of view. I need time to process those feelings into perspective. It makes me defensive or even more upset. And it does the same to our children.

When we give ourselves and others a chance to process, just imagine how much easier it is to come back and realize that those strong feelings aren’t our overarching feelings once we’ve cooled down.  Our children need us to be empathetic and listen.

But how do we do that when we all tend to try these other approaches that don’t work? Well that’s what we’re going to discuss in Wednesday’s Post.

Until then maybe look back at times you may have denied your child’s feelings in an attempt to make them feel better or how others have done that to you. I think you may see a pattern.  You may learn something. Remember reflection on our actions in the past can only help us to improve ourselves in the future.

Blessed Be.

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