Don't Worry. It's Okay To Be Unhappy
Hello <<First Name>>,
We often think our job as parents is to make our children happy. But, our children know how to be happy. What they need our help with is how to deal with their unhappy feelings. This is where you, the parent, come in. By helping them understand and embrace hard emotions, you can help your child develop an important life skill—resilience.
What You Can Do Today to Build a Resilient Child:
Allow your children to feel their feelings.
Every day, your toddler is grappling with all kinds of new feelings- frustration, anger, sadness, setbacks, worry and disappointment. These new feelings, especially the negative ones, are often hard for toddlers to understand and manage. They can easily become overwhelmed by how they feel and even scared by the intensity of their emotions. When your toddler becomes upset, he truly does not have the brain capacity to handle such tough feelings by himself. Our children count on us to help. As a parent, one of your most important roles is to give your little one the permission and space to feel their big feelings, while letting them know that they are not alone. Let your child know that you love them, even when they get upset or throw tantrums, or are not doing as they are told, as when they are acting out or not listening.
This isn’t to say, it’s easy. Emotions at these young ages can be big, loud and intense. Few of us enjoy handling our children’s tantrums, outbursts or meltdowns. Our child’s sadness or hurt can be very upsetting—to us! Have you ever tried to stop your child from getting angry or becoming upset by trying to satisfy them before they get to the point of no return? Sometimes parents try to cater to their child’s every whim, only to find it is not enough. Their child is still unhappy.
But think about it for a moment: how can your child learn to handle negative emotions if he or she is not allowed to feel them?
Rather than stifle or dissuade intense emotions, allow your child to explore them all. If your child recognizes that Mommy or Daddy can handle their big emotions, and will accept and love them regardless, then your child learns that they are okay—even when things don’t go their way, even when life doesn’t feel good, even when a grown up says no. After the frustration, yelling and stomping of feet because he could not get the final piece to fit into his puzzle, your child settles down with a big hug from you. His lesson? Mommy and Daddy are still here to comfort me. I am okay. I got through it and now I can try again when I am ready. This is the biggest gift you can give your child- equip them to handle the negative.
Label feelings such as anger and frustration. Here is an example: your child is stacking blocks and suddenly the tower falls over. She gets upset. You can voice what she feels (or your best guess at it) by saying, “Oh no! That is so frustrating!” Rather than fixing the situation (as in telling her how to remake the tower) you are labeling how she feels. By giving ‘frustration’ a name, you are helping her identify and learn about this feeling inside of her. Our children don’t learn this on their own. They learn it from us. Naming the emotion also shows that you are paying attention; you’re there for her in this emotional moment to provide her with comfort.
Stay neutral. Withhold judgment.
Rather than have a judgment about a feeling your child is having—“that’s nothing to be upset about”; or, “why are you acting this way?”—Instead, label the feeling and then set a reasonable limit. “You really wanted that milk and now the cup spilled. You’re so upset! Let’s clean that up and I’ll help you pour it.” This way, your child does not feel they are “bad” for spilling the milk. Their feelings are labeled and legitimized and so is your intention.
By understanding that big emotions are “okay” and come and go, your child will become resilient. She will learn to recover from being upset and gain the feeling that: “Whatever it is, I can handle it!” When we help our children handle day-to-day frustrations and stressors (and there will always be some), we are preparing them for life, and from there emerges true happiness.
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For more toddler insight, visit HOW TODDLERS THRIVE and feel free to share what you've read here with other parents on the playground!