Monday, January 4, 2010

Sharing Emotions

All us moms who have studied positive discipline and the How to Talk books, seem to have a pretty good grasp on the idea that there are no wrong feelings for a child.  As Faber and Mazlish state it, "Children need to have their feelings accepted and respected."  (A separate issue from the necessary limits on their actions).

I think the same applies to parents.  I think parents need to have their feelings accepted and respected.  I certainly don't expect my six year old to have the maturity to handle the kinds of emotional floods he throws my way, but I do think it's important to honestly share what we are feeling.  There is a fine line here.  The goal is not to scare a kid and you don't want to let emotions dictate your actions.  But, your emotions are a fact too and kids will have to deal with the emotional responses of others to their actions.  I think it is letting one aspect of the teaching opportunity pass to supress our emotions as a shelter for a child and focus only on the physical consequences, alternative actions, identification / acknowledgement.

For example, I picked up my son the other day and, as we were driving away, I offered him the tape recorder with a "Boxcar Children" (story tape).  I though he'd said yes, but apparently he'd indicated he didn't want it.  I reached back with one hand and set it on his lap.  His response was to to kick it off his lap.  I was mildly annoyed (and didn't suppress the note  of irritation in my usual firm tone - not loud our yelling, just clear) as I remarked how he could use words.  After a few exchanges where we clarified the situation, he wanted me to take the tape recorder back and kicked it off seat as he made the request.  I was angry.  Again, the words / tone are the same of identifying the feeling, natural consequences, choices involved.  I told him I was angry, that kicking at my things could hurt them, and that I wasn't feeling like taking him to a toy store.  The tape recorder wasn't broken, there wasn't a consequence of that object needing repair.  But, my possessions are important to me and there was a consequence of making Mommy angry so she didn't want to go on an outing.  What I've loved is that by not hiding these emotions, I have gained a huge amount of awareness in my child.  I am very careful not to over react and to share my emotions in a non-threatening manner.  I don't see fear on my son's face, he is seriously trying to figure out how these emotions work.  Yes, this is harder for autistic kids, but every child needs to learn how their actions impact others and that they will need to deal with the emotional responses.


In the above example, we talked about why I was feeling angry (Cameron is a major talker when processing) and what the potential solutions could be.  He offered to read me a story when we got home and he apologized and (since it was a long drive home) we had that all figured out in time to stop by the toy store (the first episode of using his bank box and starting our work on his understanding of money - again, another post).  What is particularly poignant about his particular example is what happened the following morning.  I was moving slowly down the stairs when he screamed, "Come back!"  I'm not a morning person, but, sensing the note of urgency, I thumped back up.  He had cleared off the guest bed (so I could lay down for breakfast in bed) and proudly presented me with a plate of 30 jalapeno and garlic stuffed olives (he knows I'm the only one that eats them).  Not quite up for such an assault on the system as breakfast, I gave him huge hugs and thanks for the special thought and we went down stairs together.  He explained that he had wanted to do something nice since he'd kicked my tape recorder yesterday and, then, as I was cooking the bacon, he had a truly beautiful moment of integration.  He came up to the stove, grinned, saw my hands busy and said, "I love you. [pause]  That's how you kiss someone at the stove.  You think it and say, 'I love you.""  That isn't something he says often.  He not only grasped the full context of what I was doing, he grasped how he could achieve his goal in the emotions of another person and that's a powerful life skill!  

So, I think the same rule applies to grownups i.e. that all our emotions are OK and that there are necessary limits on our actions (different limits based on our mature context).  If my son had kicked a friend's belongings off a chair, he would need to deal with immediate anger.  I can help him learn.  The emotional responses of others are a fact that children have to learn to address and I think we can be their most nurturing guides in that process.

Thoughts?  Comments? :)

4 comments:

  1. Awesome post! I think that using positive discipline/how to talk strategies is both easier and more difficult than the way in which I was parented. It's easier because I don't have to expend unnecessary energy thinking up and administering punishments or logical consequences. But it's harder because I find that it demands more honesty and introspection from me, and that the kids are getting (sometimes not fun) real experience in handling the negative aspects of interpersonal relationships.

    As a child who was punished, I was always focused on the punishment and my (as I perceived them) unjust parents. I also missed out on learning how to deal with people genuinely because I was focused on my punishment instead of the transgression I'd done and how it really affected my loved ones.

    There's more I could expand on here, but I hope I'm getting my general point across. We definitely have had these wonderful moments of realization and integration, and they are all the more wonderful for their genuineness. (Is that a word?)

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  2. genuineness - definition of genuineness by the Free Online Dictionary -
    Actually possessing the alleged or apparent attribute or character: genuine.

    I'd say it passes and I completely agree with the thought :) It's wonderful to see the understanding develop and to experience their genuine joy in the process.

    I think we do our kids such a service by setting them up to understand their emotions so that they can fully relish the emotional spectrum. Boy the air can sizzle though when they're learning about anger and frustration... intense doesn't seem like intense enough a word!

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  3. When I was a kid, I remember my real punishment was always the saddness an disappointment I knew I caused my mother, no matter what other punishment my parents came up with.

    Thanks for the interesting post! :-) And congratulations on the blog.

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  4. That's fascinating. I've heard that before, but that was never even in my mind as a child. I always felt guilty myself, that I had done something wrong by my standards because I was operating in the "good girl" role. I wonder if it's a parenting action that elicits that response in a child to a parent's disappointment. Hmmm, definitely room for contemplation, thanks for the comment and the well wishes :)

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