Teaching our children about feelings

“Big girls don’t cry,” is only one expression among hundreds that represents the consistent messaging telling young people that it isn’t okay to feel their feelings. As a trainer for the Grief Recovery Institute ®, one of my favorite concepts to teach in workshops is around how we process emotion. As little ones, before we are socialized not to feel, we are like little processing plants. It comes in– it hurts, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s not fair. We feel it– we cry, we laugh, we yell, we complain. It’s over– in and out, just like a processing plant.

If you are going to cry, go to your room. Don’t be such a baby. We don’t talk about such things in our family.
These messages discourage us from feeling and expressing our feelings. We begin to stuff them down, ignore them and pretend that they don’t exist. All of our old processing strategies are taken away because it is no longer safe to say you are sad, angry, or hurt. It is no longer safe to cry.

Sadly, it isn’t even safe to be super excited– because then we must need medication for ADHD. So what happens when we no longer get to process these emotions? We become emotional storage units. Our bodies and minds begin to store the pain and other feelings. Every time we experience loss, transition, and any hurt for that matter, we stuff it in our storage unit. And what happens when our storage unit gets full? Well, we explode or implode. We hurt ourselves or others.

It’s in the news everyday, whether it is bullying, school shootings, or suicide– storage units are filling up everywhere. And it doesn’t have to make the headlines to be an explosion. All this to say, we must allow our children to feel their feelings. We must listen when they tell us. And guess what? You don’t have to fix them. You just have to acknowledge that it was hard, that it hurt, that it sucked, that someone was mean, that you hear them.

Guess what else? You don’t have to pretend that you are fine when you are hurting either. How do you think kids learn how to process their feelings? You lead by example. When you are sad, you can cry. When you are bummed out, you can say, “I am bummed out.” It doesn’t mean you are weak; it means you are human. It also teaches your little ones that if they are sad, it is safe to cry with you and that feeling feelings is what keeps them as healthy processing plants instead of volatile emotional storage units.

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