Acknowledging Your Children's Feelings

This is a topic I feel so so strongly about.

Last week we had a cake for Father's Day and Tim carried Jacob to blow out the candles. After they were blown out, Jacob (in fascination) reached out for the candles, realised how hot the wax was and of course, cried.

Few people in the room immediately went "aw it's ok, that doesn't hurt" and "you're a big boy, there's no need to cry". One of them even told me to ignore my 10-month-old because it would only make him cry harder - and that made me really upset. Why are we undermining his current emotions? Why are we making him deny his feelings?

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado

If your baby comes home from school looking tired and sad, your first instinct may be to dismiss all the reasons he has to be sad. The first thing you'll do to cheer him up is probably to discount his emotions, tell him not to feel that way, and change the topic to distract him from the negative feeling. But the truth is, he will still feel that way and will move on only when he has fully expressed himself, when he feels that he is heard, and when his feelings are understood (the same is true for adults).

Just because children are small and tiny doesn't mean their feelings aren't real. If you keep denying what they are feeling, they will start to believe that their feelings are not as important as others. They will doubt their perceptions and become frustrated whenever they feel a negative feeling - because no one has tried to hear them out.

We need to start seeing the expression of negative feelings as being healthy, and even necessary for our children's emotional and spiritual health. By acknowledging their feelings, we are encouraging them to open up to us, we are giving them a chance to reflect, and essentially teaching them the language of emotions.

Babies will cry and older children will say things like "my tummy hurts" because they don't know how to express what they are feeling inside. You could help them by being there for them, and saying something like "I can see you are feeling disappointed that it is raining and we can't go out to play" they will immediately feel calmer. Because they are seen, and they are understood.

When my baby was crying because he touched the hot candle, instead of having people tell me that I'm coddling him as he overreacts for his mom's attention - I could give him the attention he seeks and acknowledges that he is in pain.

This is the only way for babies to express their feelings, by crying when they are in pain, and by wanting their mom for comfort. And when they are in pain, it's only natural that they will cry even harder for attention - it's really a cry for help because they are in shock and simply don't know what to do. Why should they be ignored? In fear of them being 'spoilt'?

"Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable." - David Augsburger

Acknowledging your children's feelings can be very transformative. It builds love and trust, and letting your kids know that they can rely on you, that you have their backs no matter what.

No, this is not spoiling them. Of course, you can set some boundaries when they throw tantrums, but at the same time, we must empathise fully with their sadness, frustration or anger. Approaching your baby in this way will assist them toward a better self-understanding.

Never shoot them down when they are trying to express themselves. Allow them to go through their negative feelings and let them know that you're on their side. Let them know that it is acceptable to experience a negative feeling, that they are just as normal as the positive feelings and it is a natural part of life. The best way to deal with the negative feelings is the same way you would with the positive ones, and that is to express them. This fosters emotional intelligence and self-acceptance and helps set them up for what's to come later in life.

Try and see things from your baby's perspective and you'll start to learn more about him, you'll start to understand him better, and in return, build a stronger bond with him.