Time for another peek into my How to keep your kids out of counseling series. Check out the first two posts here. I actually wanted to call this post “If you don’t have something nice to say…maybe you should say it anyway” but I wondered if that would be misleading.
Emotions are neither good nor bad. They are simply neutral. Saying that a certain emotion is bad is like saying that a certain bodily function is bad. In itself it isn’t bad, it is what happens when you are a living human. Things will happen and you will react emotionally. Happiness, anger, sadness, grief and love are ways that we react to various life situations. You have emotions and your children have emotions and to lead healthy lives we must know how to deal with them properly.
1. Don’t stuff the emotional basement.
As I mentioned in the intro post, we need to keep a close eye on our emotional basement. Really, we need to be sure it’s mostly empty. If you don’t take anything away from this post, remember this: keep short accounts with your emotions. If we get stressed at home, exhausted from being up all night, worn out from trying to discipline children and keep a house clean then we will be experiencing a myriad of emotions. The number one way to make yourself feel worse, blow a gasket in front of the kids and consider self-medicating is to stuff these emotions down.
“Oh, Dixie lost my wedding ring, Jimbo ate out of the litter box and I haven’t slept in 3 days, but hey, I’m so blessed!” No you’re not, you’re in denial. Oh sure, fine, you’re blessed, but what does that have to do with your current state of exhaustion and near mental breakdown? That’s like saying, “I don’t need to buy groceries, I went to college.” Kids need to see you going through real life situations and learn how to properly cope with emotions. Stop pretending you are okay when you’re not. Your children won’t believe you anyway.
2. What it means to pour out your emotions.
You can stuff your emotions or you can emote them and move on. There’s a difference between saying you feel something and pouring out your emotions. I’m not suggesting that you pour out your emotions all over your children, but that you learn to actually offload them and teach your children to do the same. Your husband has lost his job, your mother-in-law thinks everything you do is subpar, and your children are going through a phase where they don’t listen to a word you say.
“You know, it’s tough right now but really I’m okay” being said in a monotone voice while holding back tears and giving a fake smile is not pouring out your emotions. It’s keeping them buried. Doing this, they are liable to fall out all over the place for something trivial, like when you realize you forgot to record Downton Abbey. Pouring out your emotions is kicking a tree, screaming into a pillow and crying your eyes out. Try it. You will feel emptier. And, when we’re talking about an emotional basement, emptier is better.
3. Make emoting okay.
Emoting is okay. It’s okay for you to do and it’s okay for your children to do. Emoting all over other people or using emotions to manipulate is not. As long as you aren’t doing that then it’s fine. Children will know when you are not okay and they will learn how to deal with their emotions based on how you do. If they are mad or angry and frustrated, that is okay. Does it mean they can yell at you and call your names? You bet your bottom dollar it doesn’t. But why shouldn’t they be able to release their frustrations? How many times a day are you frustrated?
Life is frustrating from start to finish and it’s high time we learn how to deal with that frustration. My daughter wants to cry sometimes for no discernible reason so I just let her. I make her go sit where it doesn’t disturb the rest of us, let her cry, hug her afterwards, talk about it and we move on. None of this “don’t cry” or “crying is for babies” business. A good way to teach your kids to stuff their emotions, which will lead to major major issues, is to tell them not to display their emotions. In fact, the more you tell your children this the more you will find they don’t even care to share their emotions with you.
4. Take heart from an example.
David was a man after God’s own heart. He was not perfect nor sinless and he was a highly emotional being. Sometimes in life we get hard-timed, misused, ill-treated and heartbroken. Pretending you don’t have strong emotions to these things or actively stuffing them down is a recipe for extreme delayed disaster. David was hunted by enemies and, in Psalm 69, David actually cried out to God that his enemies would go blind, get epilepsy, and go to hell. Wow.
How’s that for a pious prayer? That is pouring out your emotions. Notice he didn’t curse curse his enemies to their face. He shared his heart with God. Now, before you start sending me hate mail, I assure you I don’t think it’s good to curse or wish evil on people. I do, however, think those are quite normal responses to extreme injustice. And I think that releasing these feelings this way is what allowed him to keep on going. At the end of most of his lamenting Psalms you find that, after he’s listed his problems and emotions and feelings, he is free then to turn around and praise God.
He praises God from a place of reality. The key is to pour those emotions out in a healthy manner so that you are not bound by them. You must find an outlet to express your emotions. If you are stuffing them then they will come out when you least expect it and probably towards your children or husband. Why? Because you stuff until you can’t take it anymore then you can’t control yourself.
5. Teach to their personality.
Your children will learn how to deal with their emotions from you. Please let them feel free to respectfully share how they are feeling. My oldest is fairly even keel until a trigger just becomes too much and then she’ll lose it. My second born has a temper and may lose it at the slightest provocation. Even before his 2nd birthday I have already started trying to teach him to control his temper.
Not to ignore his feelings, but to respond without screaming and hitting. Children who are highly emotional need to be shown how to express these emotions appropriately. They also need to be taught to control their passionate responses and think sometimes. Children who don’t appear to exhibit much emotion should be told it’s okay and, if something happens that you know is bothering them, should be encouraged to share how they’re feeling and not internalize it all.
6. Find practical ways to release your emotions.
During the course I took we had a teaching day on anger. We were to really get in touch with things that had happened in our lives to make us angry. Then we were to release those emotions as we should have done earlier. If you find yourself getting angry for the smallest thing then your emotional basement is full of anger. You need to let it out safely and not aimed at someone you love.
Go outside and scream or take a baseball bat to a tree. Rip up an old phonebook or punch something. Actively release your emotion. Hit a punching bag or go for a long run. Let the emotions out. Afterwards you’ll feel lighter, freer and able to move on. I promise.
My husband told me a story about a mother and son at our church. The son had done something particularly naughty earlier and then ran up and asked his mother for a hug. She replied firmly that she didn’t want to hug him because she was still upset at what he did.
You know what? That’s okay! She is a highly loving and involved mother, but she was hurt and not going to pretending she was fine. She was still processing her emotions. He wanted a hug so he didn’t have to feel guilty and could be absolved of his behavior. Sorry, son, come back in 10. I love you, but I’m ticked. Personally, I think that’s real life.
This week for homework (who else likes homework?) I want you to make a conscious effort to get in touch with what you’re feeling and to express it. If you want to cry, instead of holding back the tears and trying to keep it together, excuse yourself for five minutes and go into a closet and cry. Cry a lot and mean it. If your children or your husband do something to make you legitimately angry then steal away and go cut up their clothes. I’m only kidding.
Donate them, that will help with decluttering. No, okay. But truly release that anger. Jump up and down or throw sticks into the woods. Whatever. Try your hardest to get rid of the emotions you’re feeling. Once you start doing this you’ll be surprised to discover how many emotions you previously shut down. And how much easier it is to deal with your children or with conflict situations. When you aren’t overflowing you can be more calm.
Also, let your children express emotion too. Don’t be too quick to assume they’re being disobedient just because their emotions are out of control and they are upset. Discipline inappropriate behavior, but be sure that you are allowing them time and space to vent. It is healthy. It is good. Oh, and please do tell me what happens!