Kids, Feelings, and Parents, Oh My!
by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC
Inspired by How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
Parenting is exhausting. Taking part in relationships with adults who struggle to communicate their emotions is hard enough, but engaging with kids who don’t know what they are feeling or how to tell you their feelings is even harder! Being in tune with our children’s emotions and experiences allows us to more naturally engage in our relationship with them.
Just because kids are “young, little, a baby” does not mean their emotional experiences are less real or matter less than our own experiences.
The author of How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk describes her experience of parenting and how she “could be accepting about most of the feelings [her] children had, but let one of them tell me something that made me angry or anxious and I’d instantly revert to my old way [of parenting]” (page 3). Her old ways were when she would disregard, minimize, invalidate, avoid, or ignore another person’s experience.
How do we feel when someone disregards our feelings? How do we feel when people pretend they didn’t hear what we said? Or, when people try to “help” or “fix” a situation when all we want is someone to listen.
When we feel listened to and understood it is easier for us to manage our emotional responses. The same happens with our children.
When they feel listened to and understood, they are able to work through their emotional experiences and problem solve more clearly. Often, children are just wanting someone to intently listen to them. Our attunement to the conversation and small responses, like “uh-huh” allow our children to know we are paying attention. This response only works if you are looking at them, not at a screen!
Children need help naming their emotions and giving words to their experience.
The naming of emotions acknowledges their experience and helps to increase their engagement in the relationship. It also helps to teach children about emotions. It can be helpful to have an emotions chart on the refrigerator with faces on it, or for older kids a wheel of emotions.
Being in relationship with our kids is hard work. This hard work is laying the framework for better relationships as they age. We hope they have learned about their emotions and how to verbalize them and deal with them safely. We are teaching something important to our children that they don’t yet know is important!