Being a parent is one of the most rewarding experiences anyone can have. It’s also one of the toughest because parenthood is such an emotional roller coaster ride.
Most mums and dads have to find ways to take care of their emotional experiences to cope with the ups and downs of parenthood.
Every day I meet men, women and couples who struggle with what I describe as their dismissing, avoiding, and judgmental stories about expression of negative emotions.
What’s your story?
Messages about emotions usually originate from our own childhood background. They sound something like:
“ We don’t talk about feelings” “ Negative feelings are bad” “Big boys don’t cry” “ Anger is shameful” “Kids are meant to be seen not heard” “My feelings don’t count”, “Crying means there’s something wrong with me” “ I’m weak for being scared”
Do you recognise some of these messages? Or, do you have others?
These messages shape the way we relate emotionally today.
They also contribute towards the pain and suffering of relationship breakdown, anxiety, and depression; anger, self esteem issues, addiction and more.
Catching and defusing the power of these “negative feelings about feelings” requires self care, self-empathy and emotional acceptance which goes a long way to improve mental health and wellbeing.
It’s hard to avoid or dismiss the emotional legacy of our childhood completely. Why?
Because if our kid’s behaviour doesn’t remind us, our partner’s will, or when difficult stuff happens in our lives, our emotional awareness and dexterity will be tested.
There is nothing quite like being a parent to stir the emotions.
I know as parents you, and I, have the best intentions of being supportive and loving towards our children.
However, feeling frustrated, angry, guilty, stuck and confused comes along for the ride when our child throws tantrums, acts out, pushes boundaries, becomes withdrawn, cant sleep, won’t eat or feels anxious or depressed.
Parenthood naturally involves the experience of challenging feelings.
These can range from:
Anger, sadness, love, joy, disappointment, failure, worry, fear, happiness, courage, grateful, annoyed and helpless.
To name a few!
Our early years
For all of us our childhood experiences have shaped who we are today. Good and bad.
In the language of psychology these experiences are described as Attachment.
Attachment is the way in which we relate to the important people in our lives, our partners, family, friends, work colleagues and our kids.
Psychologist John Bowlby defines attachment as a:
“lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”
Childhood, he suggested, plays a critical role in the formation of attachments. Attachment is a key element of psychological and emotional well-being and forms our views about love and connection.
As parents the kind of attachment we form with our child has such a profound impact on the development of our child.
We influence their brain chemistry and help shape their emotional, social and mental functioning.
And what about Emotions?
The research points to higher emotional intelligence as a great predictor for life satisfaction, better relationships, and lower rates of psychological difficulties.
Emotions dictate how we think, behave and act. Expression of emotion and quality of attachment are closely linked.
We are the teachers
Our child’s experience of the relationship with us, amongst others, has a direct impact on their capacity for living, learning and relating as a social being.
When we identify and validate our kid’s emotional life, both positive and negative, and show them how to name and express their feelings the parenting research describes how they are less likely to:
- Struggle with self-worth
- Have out of control anger
- Overwhelming anxiety
- Abuse and self-sabotage
Parents often talk about the need for setting limits and boundaries in response to their kid’s problematic behaviour. They get concerned that paying attention to their child’s emotion will only make their acting out behaviour worse.
However, the research outcomes associated with parenting with an emotion coaching style indicates there is usually a lesser need for limit setting because kids will be able to regulate their feelings before they turn into problem behaviour.
My message to Mums and Dads
Make sure you are taking good care of your emotional triggers in order to face the task of responding to the negative feelings in your kids whether they are young or old!
Is your parenting style very different to how you were parented?