Why Children Who Feel Better, Behave Better: Calming an Upset Child
By Vickie Falcone, M.A.
These commonly-used parenting phrases may seem innocent enough, but we risk damaging our child’s self-esteem and our parent-child relationship when we inadvertently use language that shuts down their feelings. When we minimize, deny, or use any number of other feeling stoppers, we sever the communication lines from us to our child and from our child to their inner selves.
When we acknowledge their feelings, we open the communication lines and teach them a powerful life skill: emotional intelligence. In our desire to help or soothe our children, we often skip over the important first step of empathizing with how they feel.
I don’t suggest that you completely give up processing or giving advice, just acknowledge their negative feelings first. Ironically, naming what your child is feeling actually helps them to move through the feeling faster. What we resist, persists. So sooth first and talk it out later.
I’ve seen the practice of acknowledging a child’s feelings turn around many parenting challenges. One recent client claimed her seven year old used excessive drama…lamenting loudly whenever she didn’t get her way and carrying on as if her life was in danger when she suffered the slightest scratch.
Instead of minimizing her daughter’s upsets with statements like, “That’s nothing, there’s not even any blood,” she began acknowledging her daughter’s feelings. Even though she feared that acknowledging negative feelings in those moments would start a landslide of upset, she witnessed the opposite reaction. After a few weeks of mom acknowledging her child’s upsets,she noticed a significant decrease in her daughter’s melodramatic moments.
An extensive longitudinal research study on children discovered many positive characteristics in children who grew up having their feelings acknowledged. These children who were raised in emotionally intelligent homes:
- Are better at focusing attention
- Relate better to other people
- Are better at understanding people
- Are better in school situations that require academic performance
We don’t have to wait for an upset to raise our child’s emotional intelligence and self-esteem. As often as possible throughout the day, stop what you’re doing and follow your child’s lead. If he’s got something special to share with you, or she’s fussing for no specific reason, drop everything and connect by really hearing and acknowledging their emotions. Then watch the miracles happen.