REFLECTIONS ON PARENTING
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HOW TO TEACH OUR KIDS TO WEATHER ALL SEASONS OF EMOTIONS
By Deborah Owen-Sohocki
Hello again Dear Parents and Caregivers of children—Greetings and Happy New Year.
In this Wintering issue of The Wild Word, I have been reflecting on the importance of teaching our children that loss, disappointment, and sadness are a part of life, and how my own experience as a single mom with my two boys taught me this.
Whenever I conduct a parenting class [I teach what I need to learn!] I have the parents work with me to create two lists. One list is a list of challenging behavior from my boys growing up and their children. The second list is what life skills and characteristics we want for our children when they became adults.
One thing I noticed on the Life Skill and Characteristics List was that our main desire was for our children to be happy.
This got me to thinking. Is it realistic to expect our children to always be happy? I remembered how I would work hard to ensure that my boys were happy. If they experienced any disappointment, I would rush in and try to solve it or smooth it away. If they were sad, I found myself worried and doing my best to make it better. If they experienced a loss: of a toy or a pet, I would do my best to replace it in order to make them happy again. Maybe none of you have done this, but I sure did.
What I discovered, as I looked at my own behavior, was that I was uncomfortable when my boys experienced loss, disappointment, and sadness. It also triggered a realization in me that I was not teaching them that loss, disappointment, and sadness need to be honored, acknowledged, and accepted. In other words, I was not preparing them for life.
This realization hit me between the eyes. As a teacher and a mother, I saw the suicide rate and drug usage spiraling out of control among young people around the world, and it occurred to me that perhaps this was because children did not know how to handle emotional pain.
From these musings, I became aware that I needed to teach my boys how to handle disappointment without trying to fix it for them. I needed to model how to handle loss and sadness.
But first I needed to learn how to do it myself. I began to realize that I perceived I was a failure if I suffered disappointment or took time to mourn a loss. I believed that there was something wrong with me if I felt sad and I wanted to avoid it at all costs. How many of us have heard or said ourselves when someone experiences a loss?
“It’s for the best.”
“You’ll get over it.”
“You’ll be better off.”
“Other people have it worse than you.”
“There are other fish in the sea”
I realized that I had been taught to “get over it” and move on quickly, which in essence taught me to suppress unpleasant feelings.
So, I started having emotional honesty with myself and my boys. I began to express when I was sad or having a bad day instead of expecting myself to always be upbeat with my sons. I was amazed to discover that by being upfront with my own “negative” feelings gave my boys an opportunity to share their own.
This kind of sharing brought us closer and opened up a dialogue to explore difficult and uncomfortable issues.
I began to discover different ways to help myself, my boys, and others to find tools to encourage acknowledgement and acceptance of all experiences, to learn not to avoid uncomfortable emotions but learn how to move through them.
The English word “emotion” comes from the Latin root meaning “to move”.
Our emotions are not static. They are designed to move. Teaching ourselves and our children that emotions are temporary is a great skill for them to learn. Acknowledging that all emotions can be our teachers can build self-awareness and help develop self-control.
Rituals and ceremonies can offer children ways to process disappointments, loss, and grief. They honor important life transitions and when used with intention can facilitate the child’s understanding that change is inevitable and helps to build resilience. I wish that I had known about creating memory books and memory boxes when my boys were younger. Tools like these are a wonderful way for a child to process a loss.
Recently I answered a parenting question in a parenting group. A six-year old child was showing signs of aggression that he had never shown before. He and his family had recently moved to be closer to the dad’s work. After the move, the boy told his mom that he missed his old home, his school, and his friends. His mother quickly said, “Yes but we are so much better here because you can see your daddy more often.” Her reply reminded me of how I used to respond when my boys were younger, quickly moving to the “positive” when they expressed some sadness or loss. Because of what I learned from my mistakes in the past, I was able to offer this mom something different. I suggested that he was grieving and though, it was true that the family had moved for a good reason, he needed help in processing his grief. I then gave her the suggestion, to sit down, and let him tell her more about what he was missing. Then create a memory book or box of all that he loved about his old home, school, and experiences with friends. He could draw pictures, or cut them from magazines, and select items of different experiences such as a ticket to an amusement park to place in the memory book or box.
So as I bring this column to a close, I invite you Dear Parents to consider how you feel about disappointment, loss, and sadness. Are you willing to consider these emotions and experiences are an integral part of the journey of life, and that they are just as important for your child to learn how to process as it is for your child to be happy?
Until next month, may you be filled with courage as you continue your journey of parenting.
Deborah Owen-Sohocki is a licensed psychotherapist, teacher, author, and energy worker. She is also a certified HeartMath® trainer and coach. She is deeply immersed in Adlerian Psychology and has discovered how it can help free people from their enslavement to the past and empower them to step into the becoming of who they really are. She teaches internationally and nationally, a three level Adlerian training to support others in their continued growth in helping themselves and others. She is also a Master Encouragement Consultant. Deborah loves sharing this training because it encourages others to develop more courage in living and serving others. linkedin.com/in/deborahowensohocki