Monday, September 19, 2005

Feelings . . . wo wo wo . . . feelings

Sorry for the really lame musical reference but I've been thinking about feelings lately. You should go check out Giovanni's new blog at Life Unscrambled. He writes about all kinds of interesting things but recently he wrote about the pursuit of happiness. He points out that it is impossible to be happy all the time and when we inevitably fail to be constantly happy, we figure there must be something wrong with our lives. That kind of disappointment can lead to depression. But if we just tried to be more realistic about life and its ups and downs, we'd probably be more content with our lives in general.

As I think I've mentioned recently, I come from a family that didn't appreciate strong emotions. Although negative emotions were particularly frowned upon, even strongly expressed positive emotions made my parents uncomfortable. I can't remember any specifics but as I think about it, I can remember feeling embarrassed at having gotten "overly" excited about something. Although I think I'm getting better at it, I still have trouble expressing my emotions. But emotions have a habit of getting out one way or another - we can either let them out in healthy, constructive ways or allow them to manifest themselves in destructive ways. Before we can express emotions in a healthy way, we have to learn to accept them.

This morning, M-Girl was angry and frustrated because she had a stuffy nose and didn't want to go to school. I told her that she wasn't sick so she needed to go to school. She was frustrated because she felt like I wasn't listening to her (and because she wasn't getting her way). Monday mornings are tough - they represent a change in routine from the weekend to the school week and she was probably a little sad about being separated from me after we just spent two full days together.

My temptation was to tell her to get over it, get up and get dressed. Instead, I tried to accept and acknowledge her feelings by saying that it was ok for her to be angry and frustrated. I told her she could continue to feel that way for as long as she needed to. However, she still needed to get ready for school. I hugged her a nudged her along a little and eventually she got dressed. And once she started getting ready to go, she was fine. (Except that she repeated the performance - unsuccessfully - for the babysitter in the afternoon saying that her nose was too stuffy for her to go to guitar lessons.) Hopefully, she's learning that it's ok to be angry and frustrated and that you can express those feelings and you won't get punished. I also hope she's learning that just because she's angry doesn't mean she'll get her way.

Sometimes when we tell our kids to stop crying or yelling, it may be because the expression of their emotions is making us uncomfortable. Certainly there are times when crying and screaming is not appropriate and we have to help them learn to control their emotional outbursts at those times. But there are times when we can - and should - let them express those strong emotions and help them learn to calm themselves down (we've taught our kids to take deep breaths). This is an essential life skill that they aren't going to learn at school.


landismom said...

This is an issue that we've definitely struggled with in our house. I try (with more and less success) to not react to screaming with more screaming, but it's not always easy. We went through a lot last year to get our daughter to learn to express her anger through words, and not hitting or screaming, and she's made enormous improvements at doing that. Now our son is getting to the age where he wants to do everything, and can't, and is easily frustrated. It's hard to see him frustrated, and even harder when his response to his frustration is just to hit me with something!

MIM said...

This is so true, Jessica!

Children who learn to cope effectively with ALL emotions are happier and smarter. They're confident in their own abilities to handle the "down" times.

The problem is that as parents we want our kids to be happy all the time a) because we love them, and b) because it makes our lives easier. However, no one is always happy. If we didn't have negative emtions, how we would even know to appreciate happy feelings??

Your strategy with Meredith was great! Sometimes, all I have to do is tell Tod-lar I understand how he feels, and then he calms down. People always feel better when they know they're being heard.