The Disney movie Inside Out focuses on the life of a young girl named Riley Anderson. The film colorfully displays her sentiments like a noisy orchestra inside of her brain, each emotion depicted as a vibrant character. One of the things the film clearly conveys is how one cannot move forward when overcome with sadness; only when Riley’s sad feelings are understood and accepted, is she able to proceed on her journey.
Addiction therapists at The SAFE Foundation attest to the fact that many of those struggling with addictions were never taught to deal with their feelings in a healthy way. Thus, in an attempt to disconnect from and dull the confusing and unpleasant sounds of their emotional underworlds, they turn to numbing, dangerous substances.
When raising children, parents can do much to foster emotional well-being. Here’s how you can teach your child (or anyone) how to have healthy responses to their “negative” emotions:
- FORGET YOURSELF. Often, we chase away our children’s shouts, pouts, and tears, because these emotions are unpleasant and because they make us feel inadequate. However, allowing your child to express what they are feeling, no matter how bad it makes you feel, is the way to go. Remember, everyone is entitled to their emotions. The benefit of holding back from interrupting or defending yourself during this exchange, is that it will create space and energy for your child’s anger to dissipate and allow him to focus on solving his problem. Try replacing, “Stop crying!” with a calm, kind, and sincere, “What’s wrong?”
- OPEN IT UP. Bottling up emotions takes extra energy and usually causes psychological and physical problems, such as headaches, stomach aches, etc., If a child can openly discuss negative feelings about a situation, such as being bullied, dealing with a troubled relationship, or a family conflict, it can help tremendously. If you validate your child’s feelings, it will allow your child to relax and open up to learning some coping skills. Saying, “I know that hurts; that would make me upset as well” puts you on the same team as your child. This kind of communication will enable him to trust you.
- POLISH IT UP. Children do not come equipped with the understanding or verbal ability to express their emotions. That is why when faced with a feeling that’s difficult for them to process, they throw tantrums or become silent and aloof. Encourage your child to calm down and identify the reasons for sadness, anger and frustration in his life. Ex: “I’m sad because…” “I’m angry because…” “I’m confused because…” Learning to verbalize in a non-hurtful, composed manner that does not cause a ruckus in or outside of the home, will help him better understand himself and be better understood by others.
- GIVE SPACE. Give your child time to sort out his feelings. It is a mistake to expect him just to snap out of it. Instead, allow him time to feel sadness, as it is a healthy emotion as any other. If your child needs some time alone, give it to him graciously.
- HELP FIX. While you do not want to rush him out of his feelings, you can still provide different ways for your child not to feel sad anymore. Extend a hug and a listening ear, and then brainstorm ideas to repair the situation. Try saying things like, “I see that you’re feeling sad- what can we do about that?” “Hey, you seem down. You seemed okay yesterday. Would you like to talk about it? What would you find helpful?” This will acknowledge feelings and hopefully pave the way to a problem-solving conversation.
- DESCRIBE THE HUMAN CONDITION AND THE HALF FULL GLASS. Reassure the child or young person that it is acceptable to feel unhappy at times. Explain that everyone gets down here and there, and that problems can seem overwhelming to people at every age. As you make room for your child’s negative emotions, take some time to focus his attention on what in his life is good and makes him happy. This will help create a balanced view of his world.
- BOND AND LET OFF STEAM. People who are under much stress are often hosts to many negative emotions. To help relieve pressure, encourage exercise, relaxation techniques, getting enough sleep, eating well, and spending family time. Studies show that children who are well-bonded with their parents are secure and equipped to manage emotions. Therefore, find ways to connect with your child; whether it is reading together or doing an art project, your time with each other will be restorative. You can even kill the two birds with one stone by inviting your child to let off steam on the basketball or tennis court. Good luck!