The Day I Stopped Telling My Children 'You're OK'
By telling them that they were "OK," they were conveying the message that their feelings were incorrect and even inappropriate.
Today, I was fortunate enough to be able to accompany my youngest daughter's senior kindergarten class on a trip to the maple syrup festival. She was SO excited... so much so that she came running into my bedroom at 6:30 a.m. screaming, "Mommy, Mommy, today's the trip."
All in all, it was a super fun day. From the bus ride to watching these little individuals soaking up new information full of wonder in their eyes and on their faces -- truly an amazing sight. Kids have an incredible way of actually being in the moment. As the day went on, the kids began to get tired, cold -- it was minus 5 and cloudy -- and naturally, hungry. They started to become impatient and some began to cry. Some even started to ask, "When are we leaving?" Clearly, they were done with the maple syrup festivities. As the emotional breakdowns began to unfold, what I witnessed happen next had me questioning my very own parenting skills. It was without a doubt, an 'aha' moment that I will never forget.
Several of the other parents on the trip, as well as the teachers -- no doubt also cold and tired -- brushed off each and every child's search for answers as to why they were feeling the way they were feeling by simply saying "you're OK," even when evidently, they were not. I have no doubt that their intentions were good and that they only wanted to reassure the kids that everything would turn out fine, but as I watched this, I realized they were actually doing the exact opposite. Instead of reassuring these tiny people, they were inadvertently doing the exact opposite. By telling them that they were "OK," they were conveying the message that their feelings were incorrect and even inappropriate. They were not doing what -- I realize now -- we should be doing as adults and parents, which is to help our children understand and validate what they are feeling. Instead, they were brushing their feelings under the carpet, dragging them along and leaving them more confused than they were, to begin with.
OMG...Is this what I have been doing to my children all along? Have I been denying them their own feelings by dismissing them instead of teaching them how to identify their feelings and what they mean? Have I been denying them the opportunity to understand and accept their own feelings? YES....I absolutely have been doing this and today, I vow to never say to my children "you're OK" again!!!!!
A few days ago, a friend of mine spoke briefly to me about Emotional parenting. This is something I had never heard of before so naturally, I came home and did some research on it. Although I didn't dive deep into the theories and research behind Emotional Parenting, what I read clearly resonated with me on some level except, I hadn't realized it until it hit me in the face today. So, what now? How do I (we) completely change the way we have been parenting and stop F**&#ing up our kids? How do we show our children how to understand their feelings instead of denying and hiding them? This clearly leads to a life full of confusion and sometimes agony which is surely not what any parent wants for their child. I am a perfect example of this. For most of my life, I have felt confused, unsure, and unaware of why I was feeling what I was feeling. So I did what so many of us do, I dismissed my feelings and moved on, but it never failed that at some point down the line the decision to deny my feelings would come back to smack me in the face.
I suggest we start changing our parenting habits by no longer telling our kids they are "OK" when they are undoubtedly not OK. I suggest we start embracing our child's feelings -- lead by example -- and validating them because in the end, what they feel, is what they feel. Whether you agree with it or not is irrelevant. Our job is not to deny their feelings, but instead to help them understand the meaning of them. This teaches them to reflect on what is happening inside them and appreciate their feelings -- as opposed to suppressing and not acknowledging them -- which will undeniably lead to happier, healthier, more emotionally stable people.
No doubt it won't be an easy feat. There is so much emotional growth and learning happening when children are young; meltdowns, breakdowns, and unbearable screaming fits are undoubtedly a daily -- if not an hourly -- state of affairs in most households.
And as I say that, I sincerely wish you all the best of luck! Actually parenting, as opposed to turning a blind eye and saying "you're OK," is painful and it's grueling. I am, however, grateful for the eye-opening moment at that maple syrup farm. It was a lesson I will carry with me forever and has changed my perspective on emotional well-being on so many levels. Not only has it enabled me to step back and evaluate my own parenting skills, but it has allowed me to understand my own emotional confusion throughout my life. It's true that if we stop and look close enough, we can learn as much from children as they can from us, and sometimes they have even more to offer than we do. So, with that, I say: Don't ask your children to live in your world; visit their world instead!
Until Next Time...