“You never listen to me!”
I’ll bet this sounds familiar.
Knowing how to respond to your child’s feelings without being dismissive is important and here’s why…
- Your child learns that they can handle difficult feelings without avoiding or stuffing them
- You and your child strengthen your connection
- Your child feels valued, worthy and accepted even when experiencing difficult emotions
Here are 2 strategies and 1 rule to help you guide your child through difficult feelings such as fear, disappointment, and frustration.
Feelings are like waves.
Help to shift your child’s perspective by teaching them feelings are like waves in the ocean. There are big ones, little ones, fun ones to play in and not so fun ones that crash over you. There is always another wave coming. Feelings are always changing and shifting.
You can say, “ Right now, you are feeling disappointed. You wanted your brother to play outside with you and he said no. But, I also know that you will have other feelings today.” Then give your child some examples of how they might feel throughout the day such as he or she might feel excited when playing Minecraft or he or she might feel proud after drawing a picture of a cat-icorn (in case you haven’t heard, this mythical creature is a cross between a cat and a unicorn).
This strategy is important because it teaches your child that feelings come and go. It fosters resiliency and emotional self-regulation.
Listen to the feelings in the story not the facts.
Ask your child what is happening for them and then listen to their story with the goal of identifying the feelings expressed in their story. No need to point out inaccuracies, illogical points, or try to convince your child why his or her perspective is wrong.
After your child has told the story of their experience, reflect the feelings back to them in a simple sentence such as, “ You felt sad when the other kid’s ran off to play without you. I know you’re sad and I’m here with you.”
This strategy is important because it teaches your child that they can feel their feelings, they can sit with them until they go away and they can tolerate them without avoiding or stuffing. It also shows them that you will be there to support them with difficult or painful emotions.
and 1 Rule:
Avoid distracting or discounting.
In these moments, when your child is struggling and in emotional pain, you just want to ease your child’s suffering, you want to make her or him feel better and you want to do it as fast as possible.
Distracting is when you suggest other more pleasant activities for your child to engage in and avoid dealing with the emotions that have been triggered. It often occurs when parents themselves struggle with tolerating their child’s distress. This shuts down your child’s expression and experience of difficult emotions creating the unhealthy coping strategies of stuffing and avoiding.
Discounting is when parents minimize or try to talk their child out of their feelings. The philosophy behind this is that if you can logically explain to your child why her or his feelings are wrong, she or he will feel better. In reality, the message your child hears is you are wrong, your feelings are wrong, and you’re not good enough because you’re having these feelings, so stop.
Following this rule is essential because your child will know and feel that you are empathizing with his or her feelings and will no longer feel you are dismissing their emotions.
Using the techniques of Feelings are like waves and Listen to the feelings in the story not the facts, will support your child in feeling heard and not dismissed. Eliminating distraction and discounting will support your child in tolerating their uncomfortable emotions.
By implementing these two strategies and one rule, you are teaching your child the skills of emotional resiliency. Say goodbye to the “You never listen to me’s!”