I recently wrote about how aware children are of what their parents are communicating through language and behavior. This is true both after extreme events and during the typical day. When a parent is anxious during separation at school, the child knows. When a grownup holds the child’s hand just a little bit tighter while they pass a dog on the street, the child learns to be cautious around animals. On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that grownups should “protect” children from their full range of emotions. These grownups put a smile on their face after they’ve closed their finger in a cabinet and say everything is fine after a child has broken their favorite pitcher. Once again, I ask “where’s the middle ground?” I believe we are doing children a disservice by hiding our emotions from them. Certainly, a grownup doesn’t need to have a full meltdown in front of a child, show them the extent of their grief after a death or their anxiety prior to an event like school separation, but why not be just a little more honest with children?
As children develop, it’s important for them to learn about frustration, anger, disappointment, excitement and sheer joy. Who better to teach children that all of their emotions are okay, than a treasured adult? Include your child in the celebration when something wonderful has happened. When your child is consistently misbehaving, it’s okay to tell them you are starting to feel angry and frustrated. You’ll still need to handle the situation, but you’ve explained to the child how you feel when they act that way. Remember that showing children emotions comes with it the responsibility to teach them how to handle those emotions. Maybe anger and frustration leads to taking deep breaths. Disappointment may bring with it some tears and then the ability to move forward with a positive attitude. When we express our emotions honestly, using language and facial expressions, children learn to do the same. Give it a try!