Children need to be listened to. Do not assume that you know what they are feeling. The fact that they may not have words for their feelings makes it easier to dismiss them, and when they start crying inconsolably it can be equally challenging as a parent to be supportive, because a crying child moves many things inside the parents from our own childhoods. We often reflexively react to our children the way we were reacted to by our own parents.
One thing that we can do when our kids are upset is to help them put words to their feelings by saying things like: “Are you feeling mad because we had to turn off the TV before your program ended so that we can go for dinner?” Another thing we can do is to be empathic. For example: “I know it must be hard or frustrating right now. I can remember feeling similar feelings when I was your age”. This helps children to feel understood.
Do not tell them to stop crying. That’s one of the worst things to do. Do not call them babies for being upset over something that you think is trivial. It is not trivial for them. Children can easily learn to feel shamed for expressing their natural emotions. You more than likely experienced this at some point in your own life.
Parenting is hard work. It is especially hard when we are triggered by something and have to make concerted efforts not to react impulsively and to give our children the space that they need to express themselves.
By David B Younger, PhD, CGP, PC
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