What do you know about feelings? Do you know how your feelings affect your behaviors? Understanding our feelings helps us understand our parenting styles and our reactions to our children. Being able to identify them isn't always easy, but we should be careful not to hide them or brush them off and allow ourselves to feel and address them head on. When we identify our feelings and realize our behaviors associated with those feelings, we've become self-awareness (which is like our ultimate life goal, right?). When we're self-aware, we're able to recognize our responses and reactions. Remember, we're modeling behaviors to our child. They typically respond to their emotions with behaviors they've seen at home. Of course, there are exceptions to this and behavioral issues should always be addressed with a counselor, but sometimes it does start at home. It is best to confront our feelings and not hide them when we’re visibly bothered. If you lash out when you're angry, it wouldn't be surprising if you noticed your child show similar behaviors when he or she is angry. Telling your child, "I'm fine," while you're crying is not demonstrating emotional expression and regulation, and it’s not helpful for you either.
Think about your behavior when you're angry, sad, anxious, depressed, or frustrated. Do you yell, isolate yourself, slam things, give the silent treatment, blow up on your spouse, or hit your children? Some people don't realize they're doing these things as an emotional response. They say things like, "I don't know where it came from." "I just snapped." "They were getting on my nerves, and I lost it." Your teaching your children how to respond to their emotions without even realizing it, and you’re making it harder for you to heal. They think it's okay to slam doors, throw things, yell how much they hate you or lash out at their siblings because there isn't a healthy outlet or even the words to express feelings. When we use our words and model appropriate behaviors (remember we're setting the example), we teach them how to handle the ups and downs of life. If you're upset, let them know. You can tell them you're upset because of something that happened, but that you will get through it and be okay. Everyone goes through the range of emotions, that’s just a part of being human, so we should learn how to live with them. You can remind your kids, and yourself, that they're allowed to feel any way they want, but their behaviors have consequences. Hold yourself accountable for your behavior like you do theirs. Show them that it's not acceptable for anyone in the family to lash out without any consequence to follow.
When my daughter was eight nine months old, she would exhibit a behavior I couldn't stand: she screamed at the top of her lungs when she wanted more food. I don't mean a cute little scream or an alto scream; I mean a loud, eardrum puncturing, painful scream for every bite. She would do it all day if I let her. But we decided to end that by teaching her sign language. Now when she wants more, she signs it. She does more of a clap than putting her fingers together, but we all know what she means. The screaming has ceased because we've given her a way to express herself that's less detrimental to my eardrums and lets her communicate with adults in a way we all can understand. As she grows older, I plan on giving her the tools, words, signs, or whatever she needs to express her emotions healthily. But that means I have to address my feelings and work on my emotional responses too. I can't shut down and not speak. I can't hold in my anger then explode later. I can't cry and say I'm fine when I’m clearly not.
Love yourself enough to feel. Allow yourself time to get emotional and find healthy ways to express those emotions. What emotional behaviors do you have that you should work on? Do you see destructive or masking behaviors in your children?