Their Feelings Matter

Recently, I heard a conversation between two mothers of grown up, married daughters. Both mothers are people that I know very, very well. One was telling the other about a few nights preceding her daughter’s wedding, when they sat down for a mom-daughter heart to heart. During this conversation, the daughter brought up some incidents when she had gone to her mother, rather hurt and sad. One instance being, when, as a child, she was being teased about her ‘dark complexion’ and other such. The mum, in an attempt to not let it become an issue in the daughter’s head, had brushed it off, saying it was just silly and shouldn’t affect her at all. But that pre-wedding night she told her mum that this and other times, when her mum had told her “not to take it seriously” or “be bold“, how in fact, she had only felt more lonely, sad and ashamed of her feelings instead.

And what makes this worse was the other mother listening to this. Since I also knew her well, I knew that if her own daughter had approached her with such a concern, she’d still just become defensive and brush off the concerns as exaggerated or non-existent. She wouldn’t hug and honestly apologize for not knowing how the child had felt, like the first mum did that night. And knowing that broke my heart a little.

So today, I’d like to discuss a very pertinent topic that has been rearing its head in many different forms around me these days — FEELINGS — children who are comfortable emoting and children who are not.

When we deal with a bunch of kids, we always find a few who have no qualms about sharing their feelings — be it joy, sadness, anger or frustration. And then there are some who are uncomfortable with their feelings and do not express anything at all.

So, it got me thinking that could it be that in an attempt to raise “well behaved”, “non-tantrum-throwing” kids, we could be, knowingly or unknowingly, raising them to suppress their own feelings — feel guilty about those feelings, even?

For instance, imagine your child waking up grumpy and when asked, starts giving a different reason every day, like a missing notebook or an upcoming exam. Over a few days, it is understandable that we start losing a little patience.

But we have two ways of dealing with this — either we let our irritation rule and tell the child to perk up and stop being cranky first thing in the morning, OR, we take a little time and patience, simply ask him what the concern is, address it and then move on to other happier topics like something fun they told you about school or from a favorite show or book.

The former is easy and quick, while the latter takes about five extra minutes.

But by taking those five minutes, we are constantly showing him/her that their feelings and concerns always matter and shall always get a patient hearing. Not that what they feel is futile and irritating and only “bad children throw tantrums”.

We must all have those friends who come across as ‘stoic’ and ‘brave’ in the face of adversity. It is admirable, that grit. But think of a parent who constantly worries about what is going on in a child’s head (at any age) because they do not share or express much. Because they are “brave”. Now, these are usually the same parents who have also told me how “easy” their kids were to bring up, how they never “threw any tantrums” or “had any demands”.

And what I have come to conclude now, is that these two attributes are two sides of the same coin.

The child who did not throw a tantrum about wanting anything, grows up to be an adult who still does not express a need or feeling about anything.

So, what I am saying is, what is perceived as “bravery”, in a lot of situations, could actually just be a person who believes that their feelings of “fear”, “sadness”, “wanting something different”, “humiliation”, “frustration” or “anger” are all wrong, that they don’t matter and shouldn’t even be felt —because these are as shameful as a public tantrum of a child. And so they just suppress or swallow these feelings and live with their problems.

Think about that friend who puts up with a really bad relationship or a completely unreasonable boss, for an inordinately long time through inordinately unacceptable situations without too many complaints. Perceive them “brave” or perceive them ‘cowardly’ for not taking a stance? Or, could it just be that they have been conditioned to not even acknowledge being ‘taken for granted’, unappreciated or unloved since only “brats” throw “tantrums” and “teenagers” act “difficult”?

So, what do we do?
Because, giving in is a definite and complete No-No in the face of a tantrum and a sure shot recipe for a spoilt and entitled individual.
From lots of reading, discussions and first-hand interactions, I think the only thing to do really, is to sit down, hear them out, understand why this frustration and help them understand it better too. Let’s see this through some steps.
The first and most important thing is to take a breath, swallow your own impatience and instead, show them that you are genuinely interested in their problems and that you are willing to talk. A comment on their attitude/tone at this moment would be, as we all know, a definite disaster.
A second good step might be to ask questions in an attempt to understand. This kind of forces them to calm down and explain things coherently.
Next step would be to word out their own issues back to them in a calm and precise fashion  — “you mean to say that ……………………….. is what upset you. Okay, let’s talk about this.”
And finally, once things have been talked out in a few statements (keep the matter short), you should quickly move on to some very unrelated and pleasant topic.

Of course, this all sounds good and easy in writing. And we are all as human as they come — tired, stressed, worried, busy, and hence, impatient.  So our first reaction, usually, is to snap back a “please stop throwing a tantrum!” or something in those lines. And guess what, once in a while it is okay, be human. Just not all the time. Most of the time, just show them HOW to deal with emotions instead.

Yes, it takes time, and patience, and parenting. It is tough to talk calmly when a child starts screaming in the toy store and when a teenager bangs a door in frustration. But, TALK. Keep the conversation channel open. Because that is the only way to ensure that they will always come to you.

(At least, this is what has been working for me while I deal with all the kids I do. However, with kids, you learn something new everyday.)

So, be firm.
Don’t give in.

But also do not dismiss their emotions entirely.

Because always remember, a 7-year-old’s missing math note is a 17-year-old’s best friend’s peer pressure into doing something wrong, is a 27-year-old’s emotionally absent marriage.

 

And if they are conditioned to feel, very early on in life, that feeling bad or wanting something else is being a “bad boy”, it is just a matter of extension of habit about how they would deal with any crisis in life. Stoic and brave? yes. But, also by putting themselves through a lot more guilt and pain and lonely torture too, don’t you think?

So, coming back to when I was listening to those two mothers conversing and reminiscing about their daughters, and from the current stage of my own life, I have come to acknowledge that all parents do what they believe is in the best interest of their child. And in that regard, they do everything they can, and beyond.

But in today’s times, times of instant gratification and strange online friends, it has become inevitable to stop and think things through, evaluate their impact and ensure that we are present.

Do let me know your thoughts and experiences?

 

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