“Welcoming our child’s big feelings is crucial for healthy emotional development.”

-Sarah Rosensweet 

I was speaking with a client the other day who was needing some reminders about WHY she is choosing to parent peacefully.  

During a vacation with some extended family, her 8 year old child had expressed some big feelings by shouting and then storming off and slamming a door. This is a child who is intense: sensitive and strong-willed. She has big feelings and she’s still learning that they are not an emergency. (Recognizing that difficult emotions are not an emergency is a huge part of self-regulation.) Her parents try very hard to welcome all her feelings and consistently try to help her express them without getting aggressive. Sometimes she manages and sometimes she doesn’t. 

A well-meaning relative suggested that consequences were the answer: “You can’t let her get away with that!” Her relative suggested my client was being permissive. My client felt so embarrassed and unfairly criticized. And — some doubt about the peaceful parenting approach snuck in with her relative’s words. Was she doing the right thing, she wondered? Maybe she should have given her daughter a consequence? Was she being permissive? 

It *is* possible that my client could punish her child for her explosive outburst. Her child might very well learn to “stuff” her feelings by shutting down when she’s upset so she doesn’t get in trouble.  

The thing is– shutting down our feelings doesn’t teach us how to process them. We need to experience feeling upset and going through it and making it through to the other side. Feelings are messy and can be overwhelming until we learn that they are not an emergency.  

If a child doesn’t learn to ‘ride the wave’ of their big feelings until the storm passes, and instead shuts down, it could lead to mental health challenges later on. Shutting down our feelings can lead to anxiety, depression, explosiveness and/or destructive behaviours such as cutting and substance abuse.  

Was she being permissive? No. My client followed her child to the room. After she had cried it out a bit and calmed down, my client reminded her that it’s okay to have big feelings and at the same time we can tell someone how we feel without shouting, storming off or slamming doors. They talked about what she might do instead next time. Permissive would have been: shrug, ‘Oh well. There’s nothing I can do. She’s just a drama queen.’ 

I had to remind my client that this is a long game. It’s messy now. (Although she is seeing steady improvement in her daughter’s ability to work through her feelings.) She might not see some of the benefits of this approach until her child is older. She has to trust in the process. Welcoming those feelings now and not acting like they are an emergency is what will help her daughter continue to improve her self-regulation. She’ll learn that feelings come and go and they don’t need to be stuffed or shut down.  

Welcoming feelings: This is exactly what every child needs to be on a path for psychological well-being as they grow up. 

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