even this

December 7, 2009 at 1:22 am 4 comments

All feelings are acceptable, and there is so much for us to learn about our children when we can understand how they feel. But here’s the thing… if you want your child to express how he, or she, is feeling… you, as the parent, must make it safe for them to do so.

Here are six ways to create an environment in which your kid will want to tell you about his/her feelings.

1. It is not “o.k”

Stop saying, you’re okay! It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. If you find yourself saying this, it is because your child is not okay with something. If they are upset, it is a disservice to them to tell them, instead, that they are not upset, that they are okay.

Scenario: Boy falls and scrapes his knee.

Mom says: You’re okay! It’s just a little scrape! See, no blood. You’re okay.

Although Mom is trying to be comforting, she is also making it clear that she is in charge of how the boy feels. This is both untrue and insulting.

Instead mom can say: Oh you fell! How are you?

2. Prompting

Stop prompting your child as to how they should feel. It is common for a parent to be in the background indicating to a child that they should smile! be pleased! when given a present or compliment, demonstrating the “appropriate” feeling for the occasion.

Instead, try a more neutral facial expression and wait to see how your child actually feels about a situation.

3. Shushing

It’s perfectly normal for humans to be upset, and cry, even sob and wail. Stop saying: ssssshhhhhhh, sssssshhhhhhhh to help a child stop crying. Make no effort, verbal or otherwise, to stop a child from crying as this only indicates to them that these strong feelings are not acceptable.

Instead, hold them and give them empathy- oh you are so sad about that. If they are too loud for the surroundings, then remove them from the environment without it feeling like a punishment. Give them all the time they need to feel their sadness and let it out.

4. Name calling

Do not give your child names for expressing their emotions no matter how annoying, to you, these expressions may be, or even if the names are “harmless” or cute.

Henry stop being such a whiner! I told you dinner wasn’t ready yet. If you’d leave me alone instead of whining at me I’d have it done already!

Instead: Henry I know you are hungry. You’re frustrated dinner is taking so long. I’m trying my hardest to hurry, but I am pretty distracted by talking to you about when dinner will be ready. I think if you found an activity to do time would pass more quickly and I would be able to concentrate better and get it done faster.


You silly goose! Pants are for your legs not your head! You’re such a silly goose.

Instead: Are you making a joke? Pants usually go on your legs not your head right!? That’s so funny!

5. Lauding

If you value one emotion over another, your child will quickly understand that some feelings are worthy of praise and others should be avoided.

You were so brave at the dentist today! You didn’t even cry one bit! I am so proud of you!

Instead: What did you think of the dentist today? How was it for you?

6. Judging

Watch for subtle clues you give that show judgement. Do you roll your eyes when telling your girlfriend about the meltdown over the sippy cup? These hints of your displeasure are not invisible.

7. Expressing yourself

Do not hide what you are feeling.

Oh, Mama’s fine honey. I know I was crying but it’s nothing. Did you finish the t.v. show? Are you hungry?

Instead: Yeah I am crying. I feel sad. It’s not for you to worry about honey, it’s for the grown-ups to worry about. I’m sad but I’m still your mama and I can take care of you even if I’m sad.

Let your own feelings be known. There is no need to tell your child all the details of your personal life or financial situation, but you can express your true feelings. Model what you’d like to see from them.

Entry filed under: discipline, empathy, favorites, parenting principles. Tags: , , , .

joie de vivre must… stop… thinking…

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Theresa  |  December 10, 2009 at 3:22 am

    Express your true feelings, right? Yet when Echo wrote her name and you wanted to jump to the moon with pride you held back. What is wrong with being excited about my child’s accomplishments? I don’t mean praising her, but simply expressing my excitement, joy, pride. This is a genuine question… Not a critique 🙂

    • 2. nataliechristensen  |  December 10, 2009 at 11:13 am

      Thanks for the question Theresa. I can see why that looks like a contradiction.

      I am definitely in support of parents expressing their feelings. If you get a raise at work and you are thrilled about it, by all means jump for joy and squeal with delight. If you get a speeding ticket and are miserable about it, then let it out, crumple to the floor and cry.

      Regarding your children’s accomplishments, I think it is better to leave them enough room to figure out how they feel about them first. If they are happy about their home run, then celebrate celebrate celebrate with them. If they are crushed about a missed ball, then empathize with that. It is, of course, o.k. to have differing emotions about the same event, I am merely cautioning against laying your emotions so heavily over theirs as to quash their desire to express their feelings, or to stifle their ability to recognize their own emotions.

      When Echo wrote her name I was matching my reaction to hers because I was being careful not to use my emotions as praise for her actions. I was purposely letting my feelings of exuberance play a lesser role because I do not want them to communicate a value judgment over her writing skills. I want her to be motivated by her own feelings on the subject(intrinsic values) instead of mine(extrinsic). I am relying heavily on Alfie Kohn for this. If she had been exuberant, I would have been too, not about her writing, but more in recognition of her feelings about what she had done.

      Does this clarify, or confuse further?

      blessings, Natalie

  • 3. Theresa  |  December 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I get it. It is more about letting them decide how they feel rather than showing them how you feel. I see the link between that and “teaching” in the conventional sense. Like a Montessori teacher, kinda. I struggle between knowing when to interject and when to hold back a bit and observe. But this does help me to understand a bit better. Thanks Natalie 🙂

  • 4. Theresa  |  December 10, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    I just remembered when my little girl, just a bit younger than Echo, took her first steps. I just sat quietly looking, not wanting to disturb. So, I do get it. I wanted to burst!


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