News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington


   Whenever I say to someone, "Happy New Year," I feel regret. It’s not that I don’t want people to have a happy new year. The turning over of the year is a great opportunity to offer warm, sincere wishes to those with whom we live, work, and play. Most people appreciate the words. In fact, they usually respond with a "Happy New Year" greeting for me! Smiles are exchanged to seal the deal and on we go. Yet I feel bothered by these words because somehow they seem unrealistic. Can anyone, I wonder, especially a parent, experience a whole new year filled with "Happy?"

Happy Kids, Happy Parents?

   Parents frequently state happiness as a goal for their child’s life. We genuinely want our children to be happy. Happy implies contentment, satisfaction, and success in life. In turn, many of us feel successful as parents if our children are happy. Their happiness, at least in part, must surely reflect the good job we are doing in raising them! So when they feel sadness, disappointment, worry, hurt, or embarrassment, we can feel a strong need to "fix them" so the happy feelings can soon return " for both of us! There can be a fear that if our children’s negative feelings persist and we do not "make" them go away, we can feel as if we are "not so good parents!!" OUCH!!!

Unhappy Kids, Respectful Parents

   So-called "negative" feelings tend to be less acceptable to most people. When a child cries, we feel compelled to "SHHH" them; when a child whines, we tend to give in or respond harshly to end the high pitched drone; when a child expresses anger, our impulses direct us towards a quick resolution. Unhappy feels unsettling.

   Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside’s Parenting Resource Education Network (PREN) based in Fort Washington, has a parenting principle based on "negative" emotions. She states,

   Children need to experience a reasonable amount of disappointment, frustration, sadness, loss and other "negative" emotions in order to discover their own abilities to cope, survive and find the resources within themselves to do so.

   She goes on to say that we do a "disservice to our children" if we deny them these experiences. Yes, we can and need to be there to support and encourage them as they wrestle with these feelings. But "rescuing" them prevents them from growth and valuable learning about accepting and expressing all kinds of feelings.

   So instead of making it all better, we can say to the crying child, --- "You sound sad."

   To the whining child, a response might be --- "Something’s really bothering you."

   And as a gift for the one who appears outwardly angry but is inwardly sensitive, a parent might offer, ---- "It just doesn’t seem fair."

   Rather than inflicting happiness upon these children, the parents respect that for them, their feelings are real and deserve to be acknowledged.

Happy Kids, Pressured Parents
Just for fun, I asked my husband and a few friends how they might feel if I assigned them the task of keeping their kids happy for all of 2003. Their responses included,
  ·     frustrated
  ·    unjust
  ·    impossible
  ·    burdened
  ·    imposed upon
  ·    pressured

   They looked at me as if I was crazy for even suggesting such a notion! My husband simply laughed!! Yet, how many of us unconsciously consider that our duty? At the end of the day, if one or more of our children was crying, whining, or angry more than once, which of us does not question or blame ourselves for not being able to restore the child to happy?

Unhappy Past, Unhappy Present

   Recognizing that we cannot and perhaps should not strive to raise "happy" children doesn’t necessarily make it easier to accept and acknowledge their feelings. During our growing up years, it may not have been okay for us to feel sad, disappointed, embarrassed, worried or hurt. We may have been told to "wipe that frown off your face," or "stop that moping around." Perhaps we were not allowed to feel at all. Some children are told that they don’t know what problems are and can’t possibly have something to upset them; they’re only children. These beliefs can block our intentions to provide healthy responses to our own children.

   The Parenting Center at Abington exists to provide support for ALL parents. Our goals include equipping and empowering parents. Our programs are geared toward acknowledging the struggles parents face in raising children as well as toward providing the tools, principles, and skills needed to build emotionally healthy families.

Unhappy New Year, Healthy Family

   Wishing people an Unhappy New Year probably won’t catch on. So, I suppose I need to come up with a phrase that encourages those with whom I live, work and play to experience the full range of healthy emotions, including those considered "negative," and still have a happy new year.

   Perhaps the key is to give ourselves permission to grow, learn, change and accept our own feelings as we work on helping our children do the same. For now, I’ll stick with the familiar "Happy New Year" and trust that each of you will relate it to the reality of your journey that best meets your family’s needs for an emotionally healthy new year.
Written by Pam Nicholson, Certified Parenting Educators
January 2003
Volume 5/Issue 4
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.
The Abington Board of School Directors assumes no responsibility for the opinions, information and possible typographical errors and omissions, etc. that maybe reflected herein.

[ To archived listing | To PCA Home Page ]