I’m excited to share with you another life lesson from parenting expert Dr. Shefali Tsabary. This is one of my favorite takeaways from her books and has made a huge impact on my relationships with my husband, my children and myself. It sounds so simple but can be difficult to practice – allowing ourselves and our loved ones to feel our emotions.
Parents usually react in one of two ways when it comes to allowing emotions in our children. The first way is to talk our children out of their emotions. We tell them that they shouldn’t feel the way they do – that they’re overreacting or being silly and that they just need to toughen up and get over it.
When my daughter was a toddler, she would overreact to things and get really upset. I didn’t know how to deal with these outbursts, so I would explain to her why she shouldn’t have been upset, and I would tell her that she could choose to be happy. Sometimes I would tell her to go to her room until she was happy. I thought I was doing a great job teaching her not to overreact. The only problem was that her outbursts continued to happen frequently. The more I pushed for her to “just get over it”, the more she wanted to prove to me how upset she was.
When I read Dr. Shefali’s first book, The Conscious Parent, I began to think about what message I was actually sending her. Was I teaching her that being upset was not allowed? Was I teaching her that “happy” was the only emotion I expected her to express? Worse, was I teaching her that girls should only be sweet and happy? How would this impact her?
The second common way that parents deal with emotions in our children is to teach them to avoid their emotions. We try to fix everything for them. We’re constantly trying to cheer them up – we buy them things or give them treats as a way to stop their emotions. We interfere on their behalf because we don’t want to see them hurt. We do this because it makes us feel uncomfortable to witness their pain. I’ve been guilty of these too!
What message are we sending our kids when we do this? That negative emotions shouldn’t be experienced – that we must avoid them at any cost? This avoidance of feeling negative emotions is exactly what causes people to eventually turn to food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping and other distractions and addictions. I’m sure most of us can relate to using something outside of ourselves to keep us from feeling a negative emotion.
So, what do we do instead of fixing everything and teaching our children to avoid their emotions? We allow them to feel whatever they’re feeling! We allow them to feel sadness, disappointment, anger, and hurt. We teach them how to sit with their emotions in a loving, compassionate, supportive way.
Recently, my daughter found out that she was not invited to a friend’s birthday party. When she heard about it, she was embarrassed that she hadn’t known about the party, and her feelings were hurt. When she told me, I had to resist the urge to intervene and talk to the mother, and I had to resist the urge to talk her out of being sad. Instead, I just sat with her while she processed her feelings. I let her be upset, and I accepted and validated her feelings (without adding to any drama). In the end, she declared that “sometimes you can’t invite all your friends to your party”, and she decided that if she wanted to be closer to this friend, she would reach out to her by inviting her to our house. I truly believe that she was able to get past this hurt so quickly because I allowed her to feel her disappointment.
When we allow our children to feel their feelings, we teach them that the ups and downs in life are normal. When we show them how to move through their emotions in appropriate ways, we teach them that feelings come and go and that they don’t need to fear them or avoid them by choosing negative behaviors. This will serve them for the rest of their lives.
We can also apply this tool to our romantic relationships. So often we expect our partners to only react to the things that we think are important. Have you ever had a fight about whether you or your partner “should” be upset about something? My husband and I used to have these arguments frequently. If I was mad, he would get mad at me for being mad! I admit that I’ve been guilty of doing the same to him. Thankfully, we both have become aware of our patterns, and now we are much better at allowing each other the space to experience our emotions.
Of course, we have to learn to do this ourselves! How often do you stop and feel your frustration, anger, anxiety, fear or sadness? Do you reach for a snack or a drink instead of allowing yourself to feel? Do you criticize yourself because you think you “shouldn’t” feel the way you do?
Learning to allow and accept my emotions is an ongoing process for me. For years, I pushed my feelings away, thinking that I should only look on the bright side. I avoided feeling my negative emotions because I thought they were “bad”. Once I realized what I was doing and the negative effect it was having on myself and my relationships, I started allowing myself to process those emotions. It takes effort, awareness and courage to do this, but I know I’m a happier and healthier person because of it.
Are you ready to begin your own journey? You can start now! Start paying attention to yourself and your loved ones as you move through your days. Can you catch yourself avoiding emotions or trying to stop someone else from feeling negative? See if you can stop yourself and just allow the feeling to surface. Just take a few breaths and feel whatever is there. It may feel uncomfortable, but it will pass. Let me know how this affects your life and your relationships.
Love and light,