Parents sometimes punish their children for having negative feelings, such as distress, anger, fear, shame, or disgust. These feelings are legitimate, however, and they have a purpose. They are signals that your child may be in trouble and may need help. If you deny these feelings or punish your child for having them, you can suppress these signals in a damaging way.
When your child expresses his feelings, he is giving you an opportunity to understand who he is as an individual. If he feels that it is not okay to express his feelings, he may become stressed, and he may stop trusting his caregivers and his environment.
If you feel uncomfortable when your child expresses emotions, especially negative ones, try looking inward. If you have suppressed feelings that originated in your childhood, or if you are generally uncomfortable with emotional expression, you might find it difficult to allow space for your child to express his feelings of anger, pain, or sadness. Rather, you may unconsciously find ways to prevent your baby from expressing himself. It can be helpful for you to reflect on your past, so you can be sure that you are open to your baby and present to help him learn to feel and regulate his emotions. This is one way in which parenthood is an opportunity to reflect and grow personally.
This type of personal reflection greatly altered my parenting approach. As I was growing up, I was groomed not to express feelings or opinions “forcefully.” As a girl and then a young woman, I was taught to keep my feelings and my opinions to myself. When I became a mother, however, I did not teach my daughters to hold back their feelings. Instead, I encouraged them to regulate their expression, so it would be thoughtful. I wanted [my daughters] Emi and Mari to be independent thinkers who were confident enough to speak their minds, yet open to listening to others.
Honest, open communication is a key to your child’s healthy emotional development. By listening to him through his words and actions, you will come to understand your baby’s true feelings. Then, when you accept his emotions and coach him to manage them, you create an atmosphere of openness and comfort. To help him deal with the intensity of negative emotions, such as fear, anger, jealousy, and sadness, you can encourage your baby to find acceptable outlets to cope with these strong emotions.
The knowledge that you are listening to him and acknowledging how he feels helps your child balance his negative emotions. When you synchronize your feeling state to your baby’s and attune and resonate with his rhythms, you can more easily help him balance his emotions.
Even if you do not understand the cause of your child’s sad or angry feelings, taking time to acknowledge his feelings will help him feel secure. You can hold him, help him with a challenge, or talk to him in a way that shows you understand how he feels. When his negative feelings are directed toward you, you can let him know that all relationships have glitches, and you can re-attune through repair and maintenance.
In Parenting from the Inside Out, Daniel J. Siegel , MD and Mary Hartzell, MEd discuss the importance of presence, attunement, resonance, and trust in developing attachment between children and parents. They use the acronym PART to express the progression of these concepts and how they build on one another.
When parents share their child’s emotions and reflect or empathize with a similar feeling, the child has a sense of being acknowledged and understood. Siegel explains that attunement and resonance establish connections in the brain that build resiliency.
To make yourself available to attune to your child, take a moment to tune in to yourself during the stresses of the day. As PARTners or PARenTs, relationships benefit from a daily dose of a present moment together with attention focused on responding lovingly and enhancing trust. You do not need elaborate gestures or expensive toys to be PART of someone’s life. Instead, you can find creative, playful ways to connect and respond that are unique to you and your relationship with your child.
Presence—A state of being in the moment with respectful attention.
Attunement—A state of harmonious and responsive relationship with a sense of joining.
Resonance—When two people have an alignment of attuned states that create a linking of minds, and each person has memories, thoughts, sensations, and images of the other.
Trust—The belief in or reliance on the care of another.