What would you think if I told you I knew of a simple way to help your child grow while improving your relationship with him? Well, I do…accept their emotions. Emotions propel us toward maturity. They “integrate” our thinking, social interactions, motor ability, and language as we mature, especially in children (S. Greenspan workshop, 2009). For instance, children learn best when they find the lessons enjoyable and pleasing. They explore objects that arouse their interest, offer a delightful surprise, or bring them joy. Children try to change situations that make them angry, irritated, or frustrated. They interact most with people who make them “feel” good. But, children and adolescents have not developed the skills necessary to independently manage emotions. They need other people to help them “co-regulate” their emotions–to calm their anger, soothe their frustration, contain their excitement, express their love. They need parents to help them learn to manage their emotions.
In everyday interactions, parents teach their children to manage emotions. Consider a frustrated toddler reaching for a toy that sits on a shelf just out of reach. His mother, recognizing his frustration, asks in a loving tone, “Do you want that red car?” The toddler hears the loving tone of his mother’s voice and angrily points at the car while saying, “Cah!” “How frustrating to see your big, red car and not be able to get it,” his mother replies. “Can I help you?” she asks as she “drives” the car within her toddler reach. “Vroom, here it comes.” Her toddler reaches out and grabs the car, smiling at his mother. This simple interaction holds a wealth of learning and growth for parent and child. Consider just a few of the things they gained through this experience:
· They experienced a closer connection with one another.
· The toddler learned to recognize his frustration and anger.
· The toddler learned to manage his feelings through expression.
· The toddler learned to problem solve with his mother.
· The toddler gained a sense of competency as he obtained his toy with his mother’s assistance.
The same situation could easily have ended on a different note. His mother could have become irritated at her child’s frustration and yelled, “What are you whining about? Quit fussing!” as she snatched the car off the shelf. She could have tossed the car onto his lap. “Here. Now quit crying before I throw it away!” What would the toddler gain in this experience?
· The knowledge that it is not safe to express emotions and needs.
· That “I must be bad because Mommy was mad.”
· With expression and achievement inhibited, the child will feel incompetent and powerless.
· They both will have lost an opportunity for closer connection with one another.
Imagine how the repetition of these experiences will impact that child’s ability to manage his emotions as he grows. Repetition of the patient, empathetic response will lead to a calmer child, who can more easily communicate emotions and control the expression of emotions. The second scenario will more likely lead to an impulsive child who is quickly agitated and out-of-control. What makes the difference? The parent’s response!
When parents accept their child’s emotions, they set the stage for healthy growth in toddlers, children, adolescents, and even young adults. The key is accepting your child’s emotions; and, accepting a child’s emotion is not always easy. Sometimes they become upset over little things, things we know as adults are not a big deal. Parents must accept that these “little things” are “big things” in their child’s young life. Sometimes children’s emotional expression is immature. They throw tantrums, they whine, they laugh uncontrollably at the wrong time and in the wrong place. But, what would we expect. Our children are children, not adults. They have not matured. That’s why we are there to help them learn to manage those emotions in a mature way.
Accepting our child’s emotions gives us several gifts.
1. The opportunity to learn about our child. We learn their interests and their limitations.
2. The opportunity to increase intimacy with our child by empathizing with them.
3. The opportunity to teach our child how to manage emotions in a healthy way.
4. The opportunity to teach our child about our family values.
Help your child grow. Help improve your relationship with your child. Accept their emotions.