Gail Joan Cohen
How we feel is how we feel! Feelings and how we feel about those feelings can cause us stress and even psychological problems as children and adults. Children should be allowed to feel what they feel and express it. Then appropriate behavior should be taught for how we feel. Some children are born with social skills and some children are not. If your child does not have these skills they must be taught. Start slowly. Always acknowledge how the child feels. Teach, in each situation, the appropriate response. For some children this is a struggle. One social skill we all need is to smile. It makes life more pleasant for us all. Try it starting now. Smile more at your family and people at work. Smile at people in the supermarket. It gives everyone a lift.
Children often have strong feelings about situations in their environment. These feelings are okay. Children and adults need to know that what we feel is okay to feel. We feel angry, hurt, jealous, love, hate, happy, sad and lots more feelings. Feelings are appropriate and okay. What may not be appropriate and okay is the response or behavior that the feeling triggers. We need to teach our children that the feelings are okay and teach what action should be the appropriate response when we have those feelings.
When a toy is taken from a young child the resulting feeling response may be anger. The action response may be hitting. By separating the two, the feeling and the action, we can more effectively deal with them. When a toy is taken from a child and the child feels angry, that is an appropriate response and is okay. By telling the child not to feel angry the child then begins to feel guilty or angry about the anger and it makes the situation worse. This compounds as he becomes an adult and causes psychological problems.
A better approach is to acknowledge the child’s anger. It is okay to feel angry because a toy was taken away. What now is the appropriate response? This will depend on the situation and the child’s age. Some appropriate responses may be:
- “Joe should not have taken that toy away. Let us go and ask for the toy back.”
- “I understand why you would be angry that the toy was taken. Let’s see if we can find another toy to play with.”
The child may not feel anger; he may feel hurt or sad. Whatever the child feels, that feeling is okay and must be acknowledged. Once a child learns to accept feelings, he or she can more easily learn appropriate behaviors for those feelings.
A hungry child in a restaurant, once the feeling is acknowledged, can learn to pass the time by playing a game. A disappointed child, once the feeling is acknowledged and talked about, can learn to focus on other pursuits. A sad child, once the feeling is acknowledged and talked about, can find ways of coping with sadness. A jealous child, once the feeling is acknowledged and talked about, can discuss ways of dealing with jealousy. An angry child, once the feeling is acknowledged and talked about, can learn an appropriate behavior for his anger.
Repressed anger and other feelings can be very dangerous. It is so very important for children to learn to know when they feel angry, to feel the feeling and know how to dispel it. Some children can verbalize their anger. This is usually the best response. By saying something like, “that makes me feel very angry,” a dialog can be opened and a compromise can be reached. Some children need to remove themselves from the situation. Some children can write their feelings or draw pictures about the situation.
Some children (and adults) cannot verbalize their feelings. They may not know exactly what they are feeling and may be confused by feelings. Sometimes the feeling can be demonstrated by playing with toys or drawing. If you are not able to communicate feelings with your child, you may need the help of professionals. Some people have their feelings buried very deep inside.
Many times the first negative feelings come when a younger sibling is born. There are many conflicting feelings for young siblings at this time. There probably are many conflicting and strong feelings in the parents as well. At this time, it is important to include the older children in the baby routines. Having the older children sit with you at feeding time, usually lets them feel included. You can talk and coo to the baby and say things about the older children. You could tell the baby wonderful things about the older siblings, like how helpful they are, how beautiful they are and how much you love them all. I remember making up words to different songs and singing them to the children at feeding and changing times. Most children love music. They even seemed to like my off key songs.
We all have feelings. How often have we been told we should not feel that way? How we feel is how we feel. It is okay to feel that way. It is okay for our children to feel that way. Our focus should not be on correcting the feeling. Our teaching must be on the appropriate response to that feeling. That is to be learned.