One of the mantras that has most influenced me in working with kids is this:
“Every emotion is OK. Even when the behavior isn’t.”
It’s a freeing thing as a parent or teacher to recognize that you can validate a child’s feelings while still reinforcing boundaries for appropriate behavior. I have to imagine it’s also a freeing thing for a child to realize that the people you love genuinely want to understand you. All of you. Even the ugly cry parts. (I know that’s something I appreciate knowing, even as an adult!)
Heather Shumaker puts it so perfectly when she addresses this topic in her book, It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids*, writing:
“Most discipline problems are made up of feelings and acts. Handle each part separately.” (*affiliate link)
We can’t help children learn how to process emotion and deal with it in healthy ways if we start penalizing, demonizing, or ridiculing their feelings. Feelings and emotions are never wrong. They are simply experienced for what they are. The actions that follow may be appropriate or inappropriate, but the emotion just “IS”.
As Heather writes, “True happiness is not about being happy all the time, but about having the skills to cope with the full range of human emotion.” If we truly want our children to be happy, we can’t distract or dismiss their feelings away. We have to give them the skills to cope with those feelings — all of them. Even the ugly cry ones.
That means we have to be willing to acknowledge those feelings, let our kids know it’s OK to feel that way, and work with them as they problem solve appropriate ways to work through them. For me, this most simply takes on a “It’s OK/It’s not OK” formula.
“It’s OK to feel angry right now. But it’s not OK to hit your brother.”
“It’s OK to be disappointed about that. But it’s not OK to throw the book.”
“It’s OK to be excited. But it’s not OK to run off.”
Then we follow through with the “What could you do instead?” question. (And Heather devotes several chapters to helping kids find appropriate releases!) It’s a simple but powerful set of steps that help you guide kids as they manage their wild emotions in healthy ways.
“I Hate You” Is Nothing Personal
It’s not uncommon for a child’s wild emotions to be pointed toward you, the parent (or teacher). And though we all know it happens – even to the best of parents- when our child shouts things like “I hate you” or “You’re mean”, it can hit like a dagger to your heart.
It’s tempting to respond with equal emotion, but a moment like this doesn’t need reciprocation and escalation. It needs compassion and diffusion.
Heather’s suggested scripts in this situation are so spot on, I’m trying to commit them to memory so that I have them at the ready the next time they’re needed.
True to her motto above, these phrases focus on acceptance and honesty in emotion, and appropriate boundary-setting for action:
“I know you’re angry right now. I love you, even when you’re angry at me.”
“I can tell you’re angry, but those are strong words. You can hurt people by saying that.”
What powerful ways to validate a child’s emotions, while also communicating your own. Not only does it help the child to hear the words “I love you” and to know that their temporary emotions can’t change the permanence of your love, but I think it helps us as parents, to give ourselves perspective.
It isn’t really about you. And it isn’t about “winning” an argument.
It’s about connecting with a child.
Today’s G+ discussion will focus on Section 1. (Follow on Google+ and Facebook to make sure you catch the “On Air Hangout”, and/or subscribe to my YouTube channel to catch the recording any time.) The next hangout will focus on Section 2. What were your thoughts on the section? What questions would you ask the author? Share in the comments section, and I’ll use those comments in organizing my discussion with the author, Heather Shumaker.
(**Section 1 Hangout is in the books! Find it on G+ here or YouTube here!)
A few quotes from the section that might jog some thoughts:
“Repressed feelings don’t go away; they go underground.” (Pg 64)
“When you observe angry or aggressive behavior, stop and think whether it could be driven by fear, worry, embarrassment, frustration, or another emotion in disguise.” (Pg 66)
“Young kids use their bodies to express extreme emotions.” (Pg 72)
“Many parents and teachers make the mistake of trying to calm a child too soon.”(Pg 76) (*I certainly experienced that one this week! I’ll have to share in the G+ discussion!)
“Young kids work hard emotionally when they’re away from home.” (Saving the worst for home) (Pg 86)
“Take Dictation From Your Tot”
New to the read along? Find the schedule and past links here!
Google Hangout with Heather on this section is now up! Find it here or watch below:
Stephanie Schuler says
Making the child understand that ALL emotions are okay is the way to go here. Although I always let my sons know they they’re always responsible for any actions associated with those feelings.
I must say again how helpful I find the scripts Heather provides. I am aligned philosophically with Heather’s approach, but I don’t always have the best “words to say” in the moment. My first question relates to scripts and is somewhat tied up in my specific situation (which maybe some others share). I have a very sensitive older daughter (3) who tends to express her anger by yelling, pounding the floor, flailing, etc. — but almost never by trying to hurt someone else. My 2 year old, however, tends to take out her anger by hitting, biting, or pulling the hair of my 3YO (even when the 2YO’s anger has nothing to do with her sister). I DO try to stay close and to intervene before hurt happens, but it is just impossible to stay within a couple feet of the girls at all times. Inevitably, little one enjoys some successful attacks.
I so appreciate the interventions you recommend — and scripts you provide — for addressing my 2YO’s aggression. Do you have any suggestions for what I might say to my 3YO after her sister has hurt her.. .and I’ve been unable to protect her yet again? I tell both girls, “I won’t let you hurt another person,” but I feel like I’m “lying” a bit to my 3YO because I DO allow her to be hurt by her sister (despite my best efforts). Also, any suggestions for how I might coach my 3YO? I’ve explained that she needs to back up when 2YO becomes angry. . .and I remind her that she needs to give aggressive 2YO some space when she says, “NO!” But I feel like I’m still missing something in this plan.
My second question involves scripting as well. What (if anything) do you recommend that the parent do/say as a child is taking out her anger in an appropriate way. So.. .while my 3YO writhes on the floor, screams, jumps up and down, etc., do I need to do anything besides stand calmly near her? Because my 2YO is often present during these instances, I’ve thought about “narrating” and explaining that 3YO is angry and expressing her emotions in a good way because she is not hurting anyone. My 3YO IS modeling “a better choice” for my little aggressor. I guess I’m just looking for some advice on this one. 🙂
Thanks in advance.
Wow – such thoughtful questions! Can’t wait to discuss these in the hangout session with Heather!