Teaching Our Kids to Feel

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teachingThe other day I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a quote. I read it but didn’t think much about it at the time. I was getting ready for work, put my phone down, and hopped in the shower. And then, as usually happens in the shower, my mind started to wander, and that quote kept popping up. I don’t actually remember the whole quote and can’t find it now. Still, the gist was that we (parents/mothers) should feel our stress and anxiety away from our kids, cry in private, and then bring them our positivity and solutions and plans for this new situation – whatever the new normal of COVID becomes.

Hmmmmm. No thanks.

I get the point and agree to some extent, but basically… no. While I don’t believe that adult decisions and adult feelings should be placed upon our children, I do think we sometimes take it so far in the opposite direction that we instead burden our kids with toxic positivity.

Toxic positivity, in my mind, is showing our kids only smiling faces and happy thoughts, regardless of what’s happening. That’s not how feelings work. It’s entirely disingenuous and confusing to a child who doesn’t feel blissfully happy all the time.

The idea of processing our feelings (typically the negative or complicated ones) in private, away from our kids, and then coming back to them with it all sorted out, and a smile on our face robs them of so much. What it looks like, without explanation, is that you ignored it. Or that it just magically went away, and that an overwhelming situation simply turned into “no big deal,” but without explanation on how that happened.

It’s that feeling of walking into a room and feeling lost… you look around hoping to catch the eye of someone else who’s also confused and lost. Your anxiety grows with the thought that you might be the only one feeling this way! What does everyone else know that you don’t? Being lost is so much less scary when you’re not alone. You want someone to make eye contact with you, with an equally puzzled look on their face.

You’re craving the sense of relief that someone else is feeling what you’re feeling. The world is that room, and my kids are looking for me. They’re looking for me to say, “I’m lost too, but we can figure it out…”

There are always going to be causes of stress and anxiety. They seem to be front and center at the moment as we find ourselves amongst so much uncertainty. Our kids are feeling this. They might not understand it, they may not verbalize it, but everything about life right now is drastically different than it was six months ago. That’s a thing to have feelings about. And we have the unique opportunity, privilege, and responsibility to guide our children through it.

The part of the quote I do agree with is that we don’t need to bring our kids counterproductive negativity. We don’t need to complain about all the things all the time. The processing and understanding of negative and scary things should be productive. A process and a means to an end, not the place where we sit and stew and blame the state of the world for all of our misery.

As a parent, I share with my children, in age-appropriate ways, when I am navigating through uncomfortable things – my uncertainty around COVID, my disappointment about missed events, and an adjustment to a “new normal” that I want to hide from. There were days when I was literally crawling out of my own skin, and I just needed a reset. And I told them. I shared my processing of these big, heavy things, and in doing so, I validated that they may also be having these unfamiliar feelings.

I validated the discomfort, the disappointment, and then showed them how I moved through it.

The most stressful and unsettled times in my adult life were when I didn’t understand or trust my feelings. When I assumed the things I felt were wrong and illogical and didn’t make sense. I felt like I was the problem because no one else is having these same feelings. When we do everything in our power to protect our kids from our own fears and stresses, we take away the opportunity to recognize these same things within themselves.

We set them up for failure as they feel the scary and unfamiliar, but look around, and all they see are smiles.

I won’t hide my disappointment, I won’t hide my sadness, my uncertainty, or my annoyance. I will talk about these feelings, talk about strategies to move through them, ways to deal with these feelings, but all the while recognizing that it kind of sucks. And then I’ll show them how we continue to show up and push forward and create what we need and want, even with the crappy feelings.

These feelings can either weigh us down with shame or empower us to pick ourselves (and those around us) up. We’re all a little lost, and if we’re brave enough, to be honest with each other, we can be lost together and navigate to the other side.

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Lauren Schwarzfeld was born and raised in Yorktown, and aside from college in Boston and a few months living in New York City, she has spent her entire life in Westchester. She has lived in Mt Kisco with her husband Karl since 2006, where they have three kids, Mia (2008), Jacob (2009), Abigail (2012), and two dogs, Edna (a four-year-old beagle) and Felix (a one-year-old pitbull-lab mix). Lauren is a writer, coach, and leader in community engagement. She helps women rediscover their strengths, passion, and confidence to reclaim their spot in their life and step outside the box of perceived expectations. Her goal is for women to create a future that is authentically and unapologetically their own. As the Chief Operating Officer at (914) Cares, a local non-profit, she combines her business background with a passion for volunteer work and desire to care for the community around her. Connect with Lauren on Facebook or through her website!