It happened this Saturday.
I was impatiently waiting outside a store for my son. He was so busy looking at clothes and jackets that he didn’t hear me say, “Let’s go.” Normally, I don’t mind. But this time I was annoyed that my five-year-old had an accident and needed to use the restroom to change her clothes. Apparently, the accident occurred before using the restroom, minutes before walking into this store. She had been trying to keep it hidden from me.
When he finally started walking toward the front, looking for me, he was carrying in his hand a blue jacket – puffy and probably filled with down feathers. As soon as he noticed I was outside, he turned around to put the jacket back.
My heart hurt!
He had found something he liked and wanted to show me and ask if he could have it, but instead, he needed to put it away because I was ready to leave. When he made it to me, his face said it all. He was embarrassed that he didn’t know I left the store and disappointed because he must have really liked that jacket.
Knowing all of that, I tried to be gentle when I told him that I was sorry and explained why we had to leave. Thankfully, he’s smart enough to understand and didn’t throw a fit about it, but it still hurt my heart to see him like that.
And there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent it.
That’s the hardest part.
I remembered this moment this morning while driving the kids to school and I realized that I never addressed his feelings about it, so I asked him if he was upset and disappointed about what happened in that store. I first told him that I was feeling really bad about what happened. He nodded in agreement.
I knew it.
And I’m not upset that he wanted to buy something and I didn’t buy it for him. No.
The fact that he felt embarrassed and I was witness to it was what hurt. And I’ve had other moments in my mothering career where this same hurt has happened before.
We can’t protect them from their own feelings.
On the way home, I remembered that I had a parenting book that I could reference that might help me feel better. When I got home, I turned the pages of Goldie Hawn’s book “10 Mindful Minutes” to the chapter on sadness. Within a few paragraphs, I felt relieved.
She reminded me that children need to have their emotions addressed and that it is important to express my own emotions to my children, too. Research on emotional intelligence shows that people who understand and share their feelings have “stronger relationships” and “healthier friendships.”
By telling my son this morning that I felt bad about what happened, I opened up my emotions to him. Because he felt sad in that moment, too, knowing how I felt probably helped him feel better. (I’ll have to ask him how he feels when he comes home.)
As much as I wish that I could protect my kids from their own emotions, I can’t. It’s like that Disney movie “Inside Out” where Joy tries to protect Riley by preventing Sadness and the other emotions from using the control center. I can’t take over the emotional part of his brain, no matter how hard I try. He has to experience life and it’s emotions in order to grow and learn. As parents, we have to help our children navigate their emotions by asking them to explain to us what’s troubling them. Doing so teaches them a vital life skill – self-evaluation.
When we’re really young, our emotions are just as they are when we are adults, except we don’t fully understand them. We don’t understand what happened that caused the emotion. Parents must help children learn how to sort through their emotions so that they can figure out the best way to feel better. (To be clear, I mean help the child figure out how to feel better.)
Parent’s can’t be the solution to their child’s feelings. We cannot buy their happiness, either. But sometimes, all they need is for someone to listen to them.
Think about how good it feels for someone to listen to you when you’re in a crisis. Although a child crisis seems less dramatic to us (think losing a toy or getting picked last), a crisis is a crisis and we have to respect their feelings no matter what.
Telling them to ” stop crying like a baby” or “get over it” really tells them that you don’t care. Done enough times, your child will learn to internalize their emotions and keep to themselves, never wanting to share how they feel with anyone because they don’t want to be told it’s foolish to feel that way. Adults do it, too. How many times have you opened up to another adult only to have your ideas and thoughts laughed at? Eventually, you either stay away from those people or you don’t open up to those people anymore because you don’t want to feel hurt by them anymore. Kids can react the same way.
Try to remember that every cause for sadness has some hidden treasure in it to be excavated for future use. Diamonds reveal themselves out of dirt. Lotus flowers spring from the mud. Recognizing that and embracing the feelings that go with change make us stronger and better able to face the future with courage and optimism.” – Goldie Hawn, (10 Mindful Minutes)
When was the last time your heart was hurt by your child’s emotional reaction? How did you react? Did you talk to someone (or your child) about it? Given the chance, what would you have done differently?