His eyes squinted. “But’s it’s not cold!” “It is cold,” I responded flatly. “Put your coat on!” My nine-year-old stomped his way back to the car, opened the door, grabbed his coat, and slammed the door closed. Then he marched back toward me with tears streaming down his face. I immediately got in his face and said, “Stop being so emotional! It’s just a coat.” While my response was, I think, understandable, it was also not a helpful way to teach emotions. It wasn’t going to help my child deal with his anger. Telling my kid to stop doesn’t help him engage with feelings in healthy ways.
Teaching emotions and how to deal well with them is an important part of parenting. But most of us have to get through our own biases and deal honestly with some of the lies we’ve been teaching our kids. Here are 5 lies we teach our kids about emotions.
1. Emotions are weaknesses.
We can easily teach emotions as the weak cousin to the intellect. Often, we discourage our kids from expressing emotions because we believe that strong people don’t get emotional. However, the truth is that it takes a lot of strength to be honest about how you are feeling. Kids who are brought up not being taught how to properly express anger or sadness or joy will find it difficult to have healthy adult relationships. They’ll also struggle to engage fully in life.
Teach your kids that emotions aren’t weakness. Rather, your emotions tell you important things about yourself and the world around you. Learning to listen to your emotions is a critical part of engaging the world and understanding yourself.
2. Emotions are everything.
On the other hand, we can over-emphasize emotions. Today, it’s fairly common to find parents who feel they are powerless in the face of their child’s emotions. They don’t want to be guilty of suppressing their child’s feelings and stunting their emotional growth, so they simply let the emotions rule the day. This is dangerous. While emotions can be good, they can’t be the only voice in the room.
Teaching emotions is critical, but emotions are among many important data points to consider as we process circumstances. Emotions tell us a lot, but they don’t tell the whole story.
3. Emotions demand action.
Because emotions can feel so powerful, we often believe we must act on them. Are your child’s feelings hurt? She may think she has to stand up to the person who hurt her. Is he grieving? He may think he needs to figure out a way to get past the grief. But sometimes emotions don’t require an action. We need to teach emotions to our kids in a way that invites them to understand that feeling something may be enough. Feeling sad or happy or angry doesn’t always necessitate action. It’s often enough to feel it, accept that you’re feeling it, share about it with someone who loves you (like a parent), and have that feeling validated. That may be enough.
Of course, sometimes, an action may be a very good response. We just need to guard against the tendency to want to push through the emotion to get beyond it. Sometimes listening to how you feel is enough work for the moment.
4. Emotions are worth less than thoughts.
“Be rational” is often our counter punch to emotions. We often view the rational mind as a much more sophisticated and helpful response mechanism than our emotions. But that’s not necessarily true. Rational thought can’t tell you everything. It can’t explain why something is beautiful. Rational thought rarely brings about a sense of wonder and awe. Some of the most powerful experiences in human existence are what we might call “suprarational.” They can’t be broken down and analyzed; they must simply be experienced.
Both our intellect and our emotions are critical as we look to navigate and understand the world.
This doesn’t mean thoughts are worth less than emotions, though. It’s not a hierarchy. Both our intellect and our emotions are critical as we look to navigate and understand the world. Teaching emotions and how to engage with them well is part of how we help our children become whole.
5. Emotions aren’t trustworthy.
It’s often been said that you can’t trust your emotions. And of course, it is true that we don’t always respond to them appropriately. However, generally speaking, it’s still helpful to trust that your emotions are pointing to something that is true. Even if it’s not true outside of you, it’s true inside. For example, that person may not have intended to hurt you, but your heartache tells you that someone put a finger on an insecurity or a wound that may need some attention.
We need to teach emotions to our kids as we might teach another language. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean you can’t trust it. You simply have to do the work to know what’s really being communicated.
Sound off: What other lies do we teach our kids about emotions?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Why do you think you have emotions?”