How do we deal with our child’s negative emotions? It can be very confronting. There can be what can seem an ‘ocean of emotion’ in front of us, that our child and perhaps ourselves have little idea about how to approach the situation. Acknowledging the emotions, understanding that they are a part of every human being’s life experience and helping them to learn how to explore and learn from these negative emotions will help your child learn more about who they are. These skills will help them develop a sense of self and also to connect with others.

Key points

  • Show your child you accept and value them for who they are.
  • Genuinely acknowledge your child’s feelings.
  • Avoid pigeon-holing your child.
  • Don’t expect our kids to be happy all the time.
  • Self-acceptance is the cornerstone of self-esteem.
  • Help your child develop their sense of self.

Emotions are ok

If you show your child that you accept and value them for who they are, and really underline this by offering your love unconditionally, you teach them to trust themselves, and their own feelings and emotions. Children will feel valued when you hear and take notice of their emotions.

This is easy when they’re happy and agreeable, but can be harder when they’re having a dummy spit. We don’t need to agree with the dummy spit or succumb to its intended purpose, we just need to let them know that we understand how they feel and that, well, it must be pretty rotten to feel that way. This teaches them that feelings and emotions are ok, even if the behaviour accompanying them is not.

There is skill involved when it comes to acknowledging our child’s feelings. We need to offer the right amount (too little and we don’t show proper acknowledgement, lay it on too thick and we look like a goose and not really genuine). If we simply echo back what our kids are saying it can also seem false, so paraphrasing is better. Avoid any labelling terms (such as dumb, stupid, fat, or ugly), too.

Another trap to avoid with feelings and emotions is pigeon-holing your child. If they have become ‘The Whinger’ or ‘The Good Girl’ then our perspective of them and their perspective of themselves is seen through this distorting prism. Over time, this can harden like setting cement and become entrenched, making it more difficult to break away from stereotypes.

Finally we should not expect our kids to be happy all the time. It’s ok for your child to experience negative emotions at times. It’s all part of the deal of being a human being. Parental expectations of continual happiness, that sadness or other negative emotions are not allowed, become a burden. Allow your child to express these negative emotions, and help them to learn how to deal with them.

When it comes to talking about emotional issues, we should always involve our child. What does he or she think? What is their take on this emotionally laden event?  The solution is within the child. We should let it come out.

A sense of self

Through our acceptance and unconditional love and acknowledging and exploring emotions, our child can develop a sense of self. Not only are we ‘building’ our children, we are helping them to learn how to build themselves. They learn how to enhance positive emotional experiences, and deal with negative ones. We accept them and then they accept themselves. Self-acceptance is the cornerstone of self-esteem.

As their sense of self develops, our child learns to do what human minds are essentially designed to do, connect with other minds. We want our child to be able to think ‘What are they thinking?’, or as Atticus Finch put it, to be able to walk in ‘another man’s shoes’. To insert a bit of their mind in ours, and our mind in theirs— a mind to mind connection.

We can help our kids develop these skills (especially in the preschool years) with all the stuff I mentioned in earlier blogs — pretend play, emotional language, and storytelling.

If we continually solve problems for our children as they arise, and fail to teach them to consider what others are thinking, we are selling them short. We should aim to teach our kids how to think, then how others may think, and this will help them understand how the world works.

It may also help them (later in life) to get laid. Yep, it’s biological. The ability to connect with others makes it more likely we are going to reproduce — this is why we were made this way. And yes, your child will (one day) be very appreciative of the effort you put in!