The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. -Hellen Keller

Emotions can be the most beautiful things— beneath the surface, working for us. Sometimes, though, doesn’t it seem emotions are working against us? When we do not understand how to work through and release negative emotions, it is easy to let them get the best of us. When we feel good, we enjoy life. When we feel bad, we seem to stop enjoying life. There is a never-ending chase for those ‘feel good’ times, and constant avoidance of the ‘feel bad’ times. We take other people’s emotions to heart, and we see them as personal attacks against us. And we often subconsciously use our own emotions to manipulate the behavior of others.

Taking responsibility for ourselves and the expression of our emotions is a powerful tool and can empower us to have more successful relationships. This, by definition, is emotional intelligence. It is imperative that we teach our children how to become emotionally intelligent, to break the toxic cycles previously mentioned. How do we go about teaching this to our children?

It is a learning process that we must go through ourselves to become well-practiced in coping with our big feelings so that we are capable of modeling that for our children. They learn by watching us. Have you ever heard a mom say in a surprised voice, “I sound like my mother!” when talking about parenting her children? That’s because she’s subconsciously learned that behavior over time. So even if it’s a parenting style she didn’t ever think she’d adopt, she finds herself doing and saying the same things she heard while growing up.

There are patterns I learned from my own upbringing that I’ve needed to consciously change over time and with practice in order to become a more gentle parent for my children. One of those has to do with how I have handled my children’s big feelings. My oldest is my only daughter, Josie. She’s been parented consciously from the beginning. However, as she’s growing up, she’s developing her own coping skills and ways of handling her emotions. Whenever she is upset, she tends to withdraw and stay quiet. She’s very rarely vocal about what is upsetting her. She can even become irritable and grumpy when she’s in this state, most likely because she’s working on processing her feelings, and when someone interrupts her, it’s disrupting her and her ability to complete the internal cycle that inevitably needs to happen for the emotion to release.

Because of the abusive way isolation was used in my own childhood, I have a very hard time giving her the space to process her feelings. I want and expect her to talk to me about it so that I can help her. One thing I have learned repeatedly is that she does not want the same things I want for comfort. For her, having the space to feel her feelings and process them, while also knowing I am there for her when she’s ready to talk is important. If I stray too far onto either side of the spectrum in my own reactions, the safe, sacred space is no longer there, causing her to further withdraw. For example, when I try too hard to encourage her to talk, I become very passionate, leading her to feel very pressured to tell me exactly what’s going on; and many times, it takes her a while to even understand what’s going on, let alone to be able to express it to me.

The most challenging part for me is allowing her to have the space to process her feelings without taking her behavior personally. When she sighs and groans, I feel triggered. Logically, I understand that she’s simply trying to process her feelings and that she’s not purposely being rude to me. She needs space to cope, I’m not giving it to her, so she’s naturally irritated. Beyond the logical aspect, there’s a scientific side of this equation. My daughter, while very mature and responsible, has a brain that is still developing.

Adolescents are in the midst of acquiring incredible new skills sets, especially when it comes to social behavior and abstract thought. But they are not good at using them yet, so they must experiment — and sometimes they use their parents as guinea pigs. Many kids this age view conflict as a type of self-expression and may have trouble focusing on an abstract idea or understanding another’s the point of view.

Just as when dealing with the tantrums of toddlerhood, parents need to remember their teen’s behavior is “not a personal affront,”  mentioned a article on adolescents’ brains.

Just when a behavior comes up in my child that makes me think “Oh, this one is it. This is the one thing my child will do to rule out all of the gentle parenting philosophies! This one behavior MUST be punishable, right?” — brain science and child development prove me wrong, again. This to shall pass. And I need to be the calm to her storm. I need to model how to be emotionally mature, even when I want to unleash all of my own built-up emotion at the things that trigger me. For my children, and for future generations, I need to be the one to do better.

So, how DO I do better?

Check out my next blog post about being an emotion coach for your child. Here>>>


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