Something you might frequently hear in our house….
Weston: That makes me upset! *followed by tears, angry eyes, and/or a look of pure devastation.*
If you’re a parent, you know that little people can have BIG emotions. They’re able to go from happy and smiling to “the world is over!” in the blink of an eye. For such tiny beings, they feel so much so deeply, and are still just beginning to learn how to manage all of it. As parents, we spend our time teaching them how best to navigate those feelings and how they can express them in the most effective way. And even though it can be frustrating at times, it’s completely normal and should be treated as such.
When my son reacts to a negative situation, sometimes my first instinct is to disapprove of it. It sounds so much easier to reprimand him and dispose of the behavior, instead of taking the time to pick it apart and trying to analyze it. But most of the time, I find myself doing just that. I stop, take a step back and watch him. I take in the way he registers information. The way his facial expressions will shift while he’s trying to process what and how to feel, and to what extent. I watch him try (and sometimes fail) to listen to the feedback we’ve given him, and choose which move he’s going to make next. I watch him do his best to stay composed, bite his tongue, or try to hold in the inevitable tears from coming. I see him go through all of that and it looks so familiar to me. It’s like I’m looking in the mirror, and I realize that I go through the same motions he does when I’m faced with similar situations. It reminds me that emotions know no age, and it makes me more patient and understanding in that moment. How can I judge him? How can I possibly tell him he’s wrong for doing what I have always been known to do myself?
Kids are not the only ones who get overwhelmed by big feelings. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always been great at keeping mine in check either. I didn’t grow up knowing how to manage my emotions well, and it’s something I now have to constantly work on every day. I don’t want my kids to struggle with the same problem down the road, which is why it’s so important to me that they know how to handle them appropriately right from the start. Take it from me – it’s much harder to teach an old dog new tricks.
As an adult, I show a lot of the same characteristics that young children do in emotional circumstances. I react impulsively. I can cry at the drop of a hat. I have a very wide range of emotions; sometimes I don’t care who I’m unleashing them on or if they’re justified. When I’m mad enough, I’ll yell my head off and have to fight the urge to break something. (I’ve been known to throw things in the past…whoops!) I get extremely stressed about things that may seem small to other people. I get anxious about things I have no control over. I wear my feelings; if I’m feeling a certain way about something, you’ll be able to read it all over my face. Worst of all, I end up bottling up a lot of what I’m feeling for no other reason than I don’t know how to properly explain myself – which usually means that I go through things alone, even when I shouldn’t have to.
With patience and commitment, I work toward doing better on a daily basis. I’m trying to exemplify the best ways to deal with all the constant emotions flying around inside of us; ways that people of all ages can apply to their own lives. I’m learning how to respond, not react. I’m learning how to take deep breaths before verbalizing my thoughts, in order for my mind to take a moment for itself. I’m learning how to cope with anxiety, and ways to lower stress levels that work for me. I’m learning how to remain calm when I want to freak out. I’m learning how to think before I speak (usually for fear of hurting someone else with my words.) I’m learning how to listen with the intention to hear, not just to answer. I’m learning how to clearly get my words out and express what’s going on in my head. I’m learning how to stay present when things get hard, instead of emotionally running from them. I’m learning how to apologize when I’m wrong (even if my husband tries to deny that!) I’m learning to recognize how my behavior impacts others, and that I’m the only one who can control my reactions.
I’m learning all of these things, and in turn, teaching these same lessons to my kids and relaying the new knowledge I’ve gained. I’m trying to lead by example and show them what happens when you’re not completely consumed by all your feelings. That just because you’re allowing them in does not mean they have to swallow you whole.
I’m trying to set them up for emotional success – even on the days I fall short for myself. I try to share my calm instead of crushing them with chaos. I do my best to give them the right tools needed in order to process what they’re feeling and express it in a constructive way. Most importantly, I’m always reminding them that everything they feel is completely valid. That they’re allowed to ride the emotional waves and feel however they need to feel, even when we don’t personally understand it. I want to be a safe place for their feelings to be held, and for them to know they can be vulnerable with us.
My hope is to raise children who are not only in touch with their feelings, but who honor them as well. Who take the time to listen to what their minds and bodies are saying. Who don’t hide their feelings from anyone, but especially themselves. Being in-tune with your heart, and therefore other peoples as well, is a beautiful thing. I can’t imagine anything better for them.
Who knows? Maybe I can even measure up to them one day…when I’m all grown up.