In a previous post I noted how important it is to help kids express their feelings, in whatever way is most comfortable or easiest for them. One of the most important pieces of this is to validate that what they are feeling is OK. As parents, we so often want to make it better, put it aside, change the feeling but it is (our) judgment call as to whether or not what they’re feeling should be set aside. Try starting with, “it’s OK to feel ____________.” Even when that feeling is sad, jealous or worried. Of course deep down we don’t want our children to feel worried but why not? It is likely driven by a fear that if they are worried, something else may happen – they’ll cope with the worry in some way that is harmful, they’ll be so worried they won’t try new things or they’ll start to believe that because feeling sad is OK, they will begin to feel it all the time. Then who’s worried? Or, if your daughter is sad, will she stumble into a spiral of deeper sadness and not recover? And then what? Certainly children and adolescents experience big emotions that do lead to difficult circumstances for parents and families and I am not intending to minimize such situations. Often big help is needed and relieving. However, when those “big” situations do not reveal themselves, just start with “it’s OK to feel sad.” Try it on yourself too — often our fears are unfounded and instead a weight is lifted.
Often when we read about how to be happier, how to raise our kids to be happier, it becomes a burden. It can have the tendency to become something that easily brings judgment and comparison. However, it doesn’t have to be. So, try this. Quickly jot down 5 things that make you feel happy. Then, jot down 2 things that have happened today that have made you feel happy. That’s it. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”
My wonderful father says this frequently as a way of holding a door open for someone or some creature. Often when our family dog (a sweet golden retriever) would nudge her muzzle into his hand to coax a drop of food to the floor, he would say in an inquisitive tone, “who do we have here?” with a chuckle, as entertained by the dog as the dog was entertained by the food. It is such a friendly way of asking ourselves, who do we have here? While getting to know yourself is sometimes considered a selfish, deep, that-takes-too-much-touchy-feely-stuff, endeavor, it can really help in the work and joy of parenting. And it doesn’t take much, just an inquisitive mind, and a friendly question.
So often as parents, we say, “no.” We have to say “no” for safety reasons, teaching-good-manners reasons, friendship reasons and maybe medical reasons. It can be hard hearing “no” so often. It can help to experience what this feels like with a little exercise.
Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Say aloud “NO!” about 5 times, sometimes sternly, sometimes in a neutral tone. Then, take note of what your body feels like, what emotions come up and what thoughts come up. Now, stay in that comfortable chair, close your eyes again and take another deep breath. Say aloud, “YES!” about 5 times, sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly and sometimes in a neutral tone. What did you notice? Which felt better? What thoughts and emotions came up with each?
In the next week or two, choose when to say “yes” and a little more carefully, when to say “no.” Also (and this is more fun), pick some times to say “yes” to things you never say “yes” to, like eating chocolate for breakfast, or eating in the living room or wearing a quirky outfit to the grocery store. Experiment with it — what happens when you allow your children to do these quirky “yes” things? Think about what happens to you, as the parent and what happens to your child. Have fun!
Going slow is good but sometimes just stopping and standing still, like you’re rooted to the ground is even better. In parenting, sometimes it is our first reaction to say something profound, give a direction, lay down a consequence, come up with a new rule or say a loud and emphatic “no!” Or, things are going well and we think we have to move on to the next thing before someone (it might be us) gets bored and into mischief. During those times, it may be best to just stop, be still and quiet. Hard? Absolutely. Necessary? Absolutely. Even our own silence is golden.
The other day, I went swinging. I was at the park and the swings beckoned. The sky was blue, trees brilliant yellow and sun shining and no one else was at the park except me and my young companion. She wanted company and I wasn’t about to disappoint. I got going higher and higher and really felt the carefree lift that only swinging can give you and it was delightful. I had to stop myself when I surprisingly started to feel sick and dizzy but for those few minutes, there was not a care in the world. It was exhilarating to feel that even for a little while and to get that “real” feeling of being a kid. Too often we don’t take the time to truly empathize with our child in the good times let alone the challenging times. So, when an opportunity next comes up to swing, dance, roll on the floor, or run the bases, do it. Sense what it feels like and tune in to what memories it stirs up from your own childhood — Good? Bad? Neutral? All that information is of value. Your inner child is worthy. And it is incredibly valuable to your child.
Moms and dads and anyone in a parenting role, this video emphasizes the importance of how influential, how good you are for your kids. In essence, you matter. A lot. The children in your lives need you and need you to be healthy physically and emotionally so that you can care for them, teach them and love them. Because you matter so much, build more skills if that’s what you need. Build a bigger support system if that is what you need. Strengthen the relationship you have with your child or children no matter what age they are or you are. And if you need help with any of it, ask. It is always OK to ask for help. And, if you see someone needing help, give it. You’ll be helping more than one person but it also is OK to just help one.