In modern parenting circles it seems the norm to encourage children to express their feelings, “What are you feeling sweetheart?” is a common question to ask. Or if they seem unable to express their anger, frustration, grief or upset in words, then parents can do it for them. “You’re really unhappy about that.” or “Are you angry you can’t have the ice cream?”
This is how I as a caring and therapeutic parent talks to my child. I see that I want to demonstrate to my child that it’s okay for them (even desirable) to be in touch with their feelings. I wonder if I’m projecting my need onto them. I need to reverse the thought to “it’s okay for me as a mum to be in touch with MY OWN feelings”. Especially those feelings that get triggered by my child when they are in the throes of one negative emotional state or another.
As adults, we all know these days about emotional intelligence and how successful people have high emotional IQ’s etc. etc. We are all busy going to therapists, counsellors or coaches to get ourselves in touch with our emotions. We see and FEEL great release from being able to express what we are feeling in the moment.
So then we think, if it’s good for us adults, it must be good for our children. The latest parenting project becomes about raising emotionally intelligent children. We assume that raising an emotionally intelligent child means getting them to SPEAK about what they are feeling…
COULD WE BE WRONG?
Yes, an emotionally intelligent child has been allowed to express all of her or her emotions fully. She hasn’t been told to stop crying, she hasn’t been talked out of feeling disappointed with another promise of something more exciting, she hasn’t been distracted from her grief by watching a movie or being given some food, hasn’t been made to feel humiliated or shamed because of the feelings she is having.
Letting our children FEEL everything they feel, while we stay close or connected is how they start to make sense of these feelings. They EXPERIENCE them as temporary states, they get to know you love them no matter what and eventually when their frontal cortex is more developed they can start to put language and SPEAK to describe in words what they feel. Some brain research says this is as late as 9 or 10 years old.
So I’m not going to ask my 5 year old son any more “are you angry at your sister?” I’m just going to pick him up and hold him. I will offer understanding with soothing words and comfort as he deals with his feeling mad and bad. I might “you’re angry” and offer this to him, but I won’t expect him to be able to tell me or discuss his anger with me. Most of all I will assure him that this too will pass my little one, this too will pass. “You’re angry and its okay”