Our society focuses so much on behaviors that feelings tend to be mostly neglected. Think of all of the things you’ve talked to your children about today. How many of them were about something they did or needed to do? How many of them were about how or what they were feeling?
We often neglect to talk about feeling with our children because we spent too much time focusing on their behaviors, but what we don’t often realize is that the behaviors are fueled by feelings. Think of the behaviors as the tip of the iceberg and the feelings as the (much larger) part that is underneath the water.
As parents, we have a great deal of influence on our children. Children sometimes listen to what we say, but they are always watching (and copying) what we do. When it comes to emotional development, children tend to follow closely what they see their parents doing. When we become aware of our own strengths and challenges in handling our emotions, we can take steps to learn how to better manage them and ultimately show and teach our children how to do the same.
Here are four important lessons on emotions to teach your children (and learn for yourself too if you were never taught).
We all feel a wide range of feelings – We may feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry, excited, hopeful, loving, lonely, jealous, proud, embarrassed, and the list goes on. The more we work to think beyond the most “common” feelings (happy, sad, and mad), and the more we increase our emotional vocabulary, the easier it becomes to accurately describe our feelings and to discern between similar feelings.
Feelings aren’t good or bad – All feelings are part of our experience as humans. Some feelings are easier and pleasant to feel while others are difficult and uncomfortable, but they all serve a purpose and should be accepted.
Feelings can inform us of what’s going on around and within us – Feelings can sometimes tell us that a situation might be dangerous (such as fear when we’re faced with a dangerous animal), or that we did something that didn’t align with our values (shame, disappointment). When we aren’t attuned to or comfortable with our feelings, we can misinterpret and amplify them (this is what happens with anxiety or panic attacks), causing us even more distress.
We can learn healthy ways to express all emotions – We can learn to express our anger with a simple conversation instead of losing our temper and shouting. We can learn to express our hurt, fears, and disappointments in ways that help us heal and move forward rather than in ways that keep us hurting and hurting those around us.
Keep in mind that modeling these lessons is more important than simply talking about them. Children learn with frequent exposure and repetition, and the best way to teach these lessons is by personally living them and talking about them regularly with your children.
Barbara Johns, LPC - Associate
I believe that in order to heal, people need to have a safe space where they can explore what is contributing to their problems and how they can use their difficulties as fuel for personal growth in order to turn things around and live life the way they really want to. My goal is to provide you with that safe and supportive environment as well as with new tools and skills that you can take with you on your journey toward healing and growth.