Most of us remember how a parent or teacher would tell us not to cry when another child or sibling ruined our painting, our tower of blocks, or snatched away our doll or car.
Telling a child to stop expressing their emotion repeatedly becomes an injunction, or directive, which becomes a silent mantra throughout life.
In order to raise our children as emotionally intelligent we allow them to feel their feelings, we say nothing. We take them into our arms and cuddle them. We invite them to tell us how they feel. We commiserate.
A child who experiences this acceptance of emotional turmoil will grow into an emotionally intelligent child.
Once, I was visiting my daughter’s godmother with my then four year old daughter. She became angry over something and manifested her anger in loud words and kicks against furniture. (Her only outburst that I know of.) I took her to me, and told her it is ok to be angry. A few minutes later, I said to her that anger is understandable and OK but it is how it is expressed that matters.
My daughter’s godmother was someone I had to guard my daughter from in her early years. A longtime friend, I had asked her opinion on “godparents”. I meant what value they brought. She took it as an invitation and responded that she would love to be my yet to be born child’s godmother. I was too taken aback at the time to reply but my husband felt it was a good idea, so it transpired. She would start to rebuke my well behaved daughter in a restaurant if my daughter asked for more from the dish on the table which she had asked to try. I would quickly intervene, saying of course she could as she had only had a small amount to taste and therefore was welcome to more.
That friend was and is still without a child of her own. I am relieved. She was either overly indulgent or terribly mean. She had gone to boarding school, and I guess that together with bad parenting caused her quick temper with anyone. Even a child.
Children experience many emotions that they have no language to express. Disappointment, loss, frustration, bewilderment, anger, jealousy etc. By taking the child into our arms and giving them space to tell us what happened, we allow them to recognise and identify their feelings over time as they grow older. This is vital if we want our child to adapt well to school and life in general.
I have lost count of my children’s friends who came to our home and spewed injunctions all over the place. Some of them I drove home early.
One little girl was a second daughter whose mother had gone to university and started to date after she was born. Her longing for her mother was palpable and I sometimes invited her to talk about it. More commonly though, this little girl would manipulate or express extreme anger. I did my best in a difficult situation, but often she was driven home if her older sister was there.
My daughter was not particularly close to that little girl so, fortunately, these scenarios were few.
The first three years of a child’s life are when they are formed as personality. A good person or a sociopath are made in these years, and everything in between. It is helpful to learn your children’s love languages, as described by Dr. Gary Chapman. They are;
- quality time
- words of affirmation
- receiving gifts
- acts of service
- physical touch
Every child has two more of these. Learn which matter most to your child, but use all of them. Then, if your child has a difficult day, or is unwell, you will be able to make them feel your love quickly and they will recover sooner.
So, we see the importance of giving space in a cuddle or hug to ask what happened and say what they feel about it as best they can. Reflect back what you hear without interrupting. The child will feel accepted and understood. We see also that “don’t” does not belong in any conversation about feelings.
Published in Shelter Me