Children’s feelings & the link to behaviour
Connecting to your child’s feelings
Some of us are better at this than others. If you had a parent, who tuned into how you felt and showed compassion and empathy when you were sad or upset, you are lucky. Many of us come from homes where there was a ban on emotional expression and the response to being upset may have been to deny it ‘You can’t feel like that’ or to dilute it ‘You will feel better about it tomorrow!’ or to dismiss it ‘Get over it!’ If this is how you were responded to you simply learnt early to suppress your feelings and you certainly do not go back to that person the next time. Unfortunately, we go onto become parents and do the same to our children – who needs a parent to tune into how they feel and to help them with their feelings.
Here is an example:
An 11 year old comes home distressed that her best friend is leaving the country. Her dad greets this news with logic and reasoning from a ‘head’ level and says: ‘Sure you will make new friends! It is not so bad’. Does that make her feel any better? Hardly, she simply feels that he does not understand and she may become more upset at the lack of empathy.
The importance of empathy (Mirroring)
Her mum arrives home and hears the news and her response is as follows:
‘Ann, did I just hear that Mary is leaving! She’s your best friend! What are you going to do? You spend every minute together! I bet you cannot imagine what it’s going to be like without her here! You poor pet!’
What difference does Mum’s response make, to how her daughter feels?
- The daughter feels upset
- The mother confirms it
- Mum matches the child’s feeling with her response
- The child can process it emotionally when we let them know we understand
Empathy helps our child process feelings
Ann feels understood and feels she can say more. Ironically, before very long, she has processed the event and says ‘you will let me Skype her won’t you? She is over it! Once you have ‘stayed with the feeling’ and the problem is shared and expressed, the child can move on knowing ‘I can talk to her, I am going to be okay’.
Tips: Soothe the child in their feelings and they won’t have to show it in their behaviour
This approach can make all the difference in the world to a child struggling with feelings to be met by a parent who takes their shoes off and puts on the child’s shoes to see how they might be feeling.
- Name her feeling to give them an emotional vocabulary
- Help them to recognises their own feelings
- Be compassionate, kind, understanding ‘it’s hard having a younger brother’
- Offer physical soothing
As George Mitchell said about the problems in Northern Ireland:
‘I’m not interested in who is at fault; I’m interested in sorting it out!’