News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

.      Who Owns That Feeling?
  Our children experience many, many feelings in the course of any given day. Yet as parents, we may unintentionally find ourselves repeatedly denying our children the power to "own" their feelings. We may say such things as, "Oh, that didn't hurt. It's just a small scrape." "It's cold outside. Now put your coat on," while your child tells you, "But Mom, I'm hot."

   Over the course of our children's day, we tend to dictate to them how they should feel, act and be; and, from our perspective, it makes sense. We know better than our children because we have the more mature judgment and experience. Sometimes too, it can be just plain difficult or too time consuming to have to deal with all of our children's feelings, especially those emotional meltdowns. We may find ourselves wanting to say, "Just get over it." "It's no big deal." It can also be hard to see our children unhappy, angry and frustrated. We may deep inside want to just make it all better for them and "fix" the bad feelings as a way of helping them over their emotional hurdles.

   What are we really saying to our children when we deny or minimize what they are feeling? What we are telling them is to not feel what they are feeling and to not know or mean what they are saying. We literally ask them to give up ownership of their own personal, internal experiences. Over time, children may become confused about what they are feeling and may start to question or doubt those feelings, especially if they are different from ours. Barbara Coloroso, in her book Kids are Worth It!, says children may begin to feel that their feelings are not as important as others and they may learn to become dependent on others to define how they are feeling. Ultimately, it effects a child's sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

   For children, feelings are very real and they are very real for the moment they are feeling them. A child may come home from school feeling like they haven't a friend in the world. Their sadness is a very real experience for them at that moment based on some event, often unknown to parents, that may have occurred that day. We want to talk logic with our children to get them to see that what they are feeling is wrong, only to find our efforts backfiring and our children's feelings intensifying. As parents, we so want our children to be happy that we may actually be depriving them of the maturing experiences of disappointment, frustration and grief. These feelings are, after all, a part of life. According to child psychologist Haim Ginot, "we can strengthen our children when we identify painful emotions" and allow them to exist. It isn't until a child's angry and hurt feelings are out in the open, heard and accepted, that he/she is free to change and move on.

What can we do?
   When we learn to respect our children's feelings, we respect our children's integrity. We let them know that it is okay to be who they are even when their feelings differ from ours. We can begin to help our children by teaching them to identify what it is that they are feeling. A simple statement acknowledging our children's anger, sadness, frustration, or even happiness can be one of the greatest gifts of understanding that we could give.

   Being able to acknowledge our children's right to have those feelings without passing judgment or trying to make the feelings "go away" can be one of the hardest things for us to do. It's the "negative" feelings that take the most energy for us to be able to allow. It is important to remember that allowing our children own their own feelings does not mean letting them do whatever they want. We still need to set limits on unacceptable behaviors. We can use our children's times of anger, disappointment and frustration as opportunities to teach them acceptable ways to own and express those feelings.

   We shouldn't forget that one of the most powerful ways we touch and teach our children is through the modeling that we do. We can model for our children accepting our own feelings and addressing them in responsible ways.

   As parents, we often forget that our way of seeing and feeling is not the only way. If we see the world from our children's perspective, we can gain a better understanding of who our children really are - unique individuals with their own unique feelings, opinions and perspectives. In the end, our children will be better able to consider the feelings of others when their own feelings have been understood.

By Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator

Sources and Suggested Reading:
Your Child's Self-Esteem by Dorothy Corkille Briggs
Kids are Worth it! by Barbara Coloroso
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
 by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Liberated Parents, Liberated Children
 by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Raising Good Children by Thomas Lickona
April 1999
Vol. 1/ No.6
The Parenting Center at Abington
is a non-profit, non-sectarian community service organization.

Editor of News and Views: Deanna Bosley,
Certified Parenting Educator

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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