Thursday, July 22, 2010

Negating Childrens Feelings

I've been reading this book called "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk"
My daughter, Bianca, will be 6 next month and the struggles that occur between us can be monumental. I wanted a better way to communicate. She is so much like me and we often clash because we both want to be in control. Well I'm the Mom so I need to be in control! But that doesn't mean I need to squash her thoughts and feelings in the process.
The main thrust of the book is simple. Validate your child's feelings. Don't excuse or negate their feelings with statements like "You don't really feel that way.", "You're just saying that because you're tired.", "There's no reason to be so upset." In our grown up world, we *wish* our biggest problem was that "Billy made a face at me" or "Lauren wouldn't sit next to me at lunch" so it's easy for us to brush it off. But to kids, it's a big deal and they need to know we understand and accept their feelings.
It was funny, on Sunday, we were leaving a pool party and Bianca was exhausted, did not want to get out of the pool, did not want to leave and she was crying. All the other grownups were telling her "you're okay, you had such a fun day, you'll be back soon, oh you're just tired, don't be sad, don't cry, etc..." I just let her cry & told her I understand you feel sad, it's hard to leave when you've had so much fun. I just let her work it through and kept validating her and, within a few minutes, she was done crying and we were laughing and being silly.
More importantly, when they are sad, angry or frustrated, we have to help them label those feelings that they may not understand and, without jumping in to solve their problem, give them the opportunity to feel their feelings and talk things out on their own. Help them to trust their own feelings. Give them the tools to work through bad experiences. I know, as parents, we just want to make things all better ASAP! But that desire to step in and "solve" the problem may do more harm than good in the long run. Now I'm brand new at this so I don't have many examples of how it's worked for me yet but I hope to update later on with my success stories.
But the point of this post is what it's brought up for me. As abuse survivors, we've likely had our fears, feelings and experiences negated more than the average child. Not only did the abuse mess us up but the disbelief or failure to act on the part of our caregivers caused us to doubt our own experiences and feelings. No wonder so many of us have a hard time expressing and trusting our emotions!
I have a seriously hard time feeling my feelings. And an even harder time talking about them. When I do talk about them, there is this laundry list of expectations of how I want the person listening to respond. If you get it wrong.....bbbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!! You're out. I'm not likely to confide in you again! Well, I certainly realized how unrealistic this was. Who could live up to that? It became a self fulfilling prophecy that I could not trust anyone to help me. I'm genuinely uncomfortable with people who give me the "look on the bright side" approach because I feel dismissed. And I realized that is because of my mother. She cannot tolerate unhappiness or discomfort in any way and she turns into a whirling dervish of sunshine trying to dispel the negative feelings. The biggest example I saw of this in my own life was my nightmares. When we moved to CT, I was 10 and my brother (abuser) was 12. It had been going on for many years already but this was the point that it began to escalate in severity. I had such horrible nightmares, so terrifying that my screams would not even make a sound. When my panic finally came down to a level that I could scream, my mother would come into my room. Never asking what the dream was, never empathizing that dreams could feel real and be scary. Just telling me to go back to bed, nothing is wrong, everything is fine, think about butterflies, kittens & ballerinas. No room for bad things here, let's just pretend none of this ever happened. Push all those fears down, down, down (where you can deal with them in therapy 20 years later.....) Only talk to me about rainbows, lollipops and unicorns. Because that's much more helpful. Because that was all she could deal with. And I was left feeling like my fears were "wrong", unfounded, unimportant, something to stuff down and not talk about. Ever.
Now I see why I'm such a freak about talking about my problems as well as talking myself out of my problems ie: getting ready to reach out to talk to a friend and then I say to myself "oh this isn't so bad, it's not a big deal, I don't want to bother so&so with this stupid stuff, I can work through it myself. Sure....because my problems were never given credibility. No one gave me permission to feel sad or angry or scared. I refuse to do that to my daughter anymore and I'm really excited to see how this process will develop.


Cassandra said...


wow I read this post and automatically could identify with it. I too was never allowed to feel anything.. it just wasnt there.. because nothing was going on... I wasnt allowed to feel... just wanted you to know that I understand one hundred percent and that you are not alone


Anonymous said...

Thank you! That sounds exactly like my mom. I'm starting to realize I can't change her, but I don't have to let it hurt me so much when she acts that way.(which is always...) "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." :)