I’m thinking of coming on here to share random thoughts a little more maybe.. things that you might see glimpses of on my instagram stories (if you follow me there) but a more detailed version maybe. I get questions often about some thing that I’ve shared – about parenting, faith or one of the other things I have randomly mentioned. Often times I would love to share about it in more depth &I think this might be a better place to do that. So here I am..
So Anya is a very empathetic kid, deeply concerned about many things incl. animals & our planet; she’s also very sensitive and feels things deeply. Last month when I’d shared about something that was saddening her, I got asked this by someone, “how do you respond to her questions when you don’t know the answers? or if the answer is something really negative?”
And I thought that was a wonderful question that I would love to talk about. I know sometimes as parents we feel like we need to “toughen up our kids” for the world. But you know what? The world could definitely do with more sensitive kids, who’ll grow into caring adults. So instead of trying to change her, I try to help her with her feelings now.
From everything that I’ve learned in recent years, I’ve realized that the first step in dealing with feelings is acknowledgement and acceptance. Our kids need to feel like it’s okay to be upset. Just like happy is a valid emotion, so is being sad or mad, there’s nothing wrong with that. This can be done in many different, age appropriate ways. For example just saying “Oh sounds like you’re so upset”, “I get that you feel sad” or something similar that makes sense. When A was really small and would be getting upset over something, for me to just say “oh baby it sounds like you’re so upset”, “Oh I’m sorry that you’re so sad about..” would itself get her to calm down a little bit compared to just saying “it’s okay, don’t cry. You’re fine.” which many times is our usual parenting response, or maybe mine was.
So I try to do this as much as I can, remind her that whatever feeling she’s feeling is totally normal, totally okay. The emotions/feelings are okay, but the reactions to those feelings are what we can work on, as grown-ups and as kids. I feel like we didn’t grow up with this (I personally have had a hard time dealing with sad feelings) & really want her to learn early on that it’s okay to not be feeling our happiest all the time, and slowly teach her ways to deal with those feelings. For example: using a journal, doing something that makes us happy, having mindful rituals, practicing positive thinking, etc.
THIS ABOVE IS THE CORE BUT HERE ARE OTHER THINGS I DO THAT HELP
- Give her examples from my own life, my own childhood when she feels upset about something (eg: things like friendship stories, moving struggles, etc.). There’s so much that she really relates to. I try to do this in a non-preachy way, more like a story of how I can relate to what she’s feeling and more.
- Give her hope. I think however terrible our circumstances, being able to hold on to hope is everything, so I try to guide her towards that. (Eg: She gets really upset about the climate, animal rights and more so I find her hopeful stories of the amazing things people are doing to make it better.)
- Coming up with a plan: I try to encourage her to focus on what she can do about a problem, instead of being so IN TO the problem itself. I’ve recently started asking her when she complains about something “oh, what do you think you’ll do about that?” (eg: I tried to brainstorm with her the things we could do about the deforestation for new housing.)
- Add humor. For many things where nothing can be done, I try to find a funny angle to it, make her look at the lighter side, or something to laugh about in the situation. My mom & sisters have a way of doing this and I want to pass that on in slight ways since she can also get upset with this sometime.
- Help look at the positive side. While I have a tendency to do this the first, I try to use this later on so it doesn’t feel like I’m undermining how she is feeling (eg: I help her do this when she talks about not having a sibling, about missing our old house etc.)
Even when it’s even more difficult things like her missing her dadi, or telling me she wishes our family lived close, or that she wishes she had met Papa, I handle it a similar way. I acknowledge her feelings, tell her I/we miss them too, tell her they must be so happy in heaven. I tell her what I do when I miss my dad, eg: wear something he bought for me, write in my journal, look at a note he wrote to me, talk about him etc. I remind her we can pray for them extra so they can feel happy in heaven knowing we are making dua for them.
I think as parents at some point we realize that our job isn’t to fix everything for our kids, to make them feel happy all the time – but instead to be there for them, to be their safe space. And to also give them tools for dealing with feelings (even if sometimes we have to learn that for ourselves too). I am learning this slowly one step at a time.
Hope this didn’t feel like too much of a ramble and makes some sense. Do you have any comment or something to add to this?
(Feel the need to mention that I’m as impatient as any mom and struggle with keeping cool and using the strategies I want to practice all the time. Just trying to do the best I can every single day and wanted to share what I’m finding useful. I’m so far from perfect and it’s okay if you feel the same.)