All feelings are acceptable, and there is so much for us to learn about our children when we can understand how they feel. But here's the thing... if you want your child to express how he, or she, is feeling... you, as the parent, must make it safe for them to do so.
Here are six ways to create an environment in which your kid will want to tell you about his/her feelings.
1. It is not "o.k"
Stop saying, you're okay! It's okay. It's going to be okay. If you find yourself saying this, it is because your child is not okay with something. If they are upset, it is a disservice to them to tell them, instead, that they are not upset, that they are okay.
Scenario: Boy falls and scrapes his knee.
Mom says: You're okay! It's just a little scrape! See, no blood. You're okay.
Although Mom is trying to be comforting, she is also making it clear that she is in charge of how the boy feels. This is both untrue and insulting.
Instead mom can say: Oh you fell! How are you?
Stop prompting your child as to how they should feel. It is common for a parent to be in the background indicating to a child that they should smile! be pleased! when given a present or compliment, demonstrating the "appropriate" feeling for the occasion.
Instead, try a more neutral facial expression and wait to see how your child actually feels about a situation.
It's perfectly normal for humans to be upset, and cry, even sob and wail. Stop saying: ssssshhhhhhh, sssssshhhhhhhh to help a child stop crying. Make no effort, verbal or otherwise, to stop a child from crying as this only indicates to them that these strong feelings are not acceptable.
Instead, hold them and give them empathy- oh you are so sad about that. If they are too loud for the surroundings, then remove them from the environment without it feeling like a punishment. Give them all the time they need to feel their sadness and let it out.
4. Name calling
Do not give your child names for expressing their emotions no matter how annoying, to you, these expressions may be, or even if the names are "harmless" or cute.
Henry stop being such a whiner! I told you dinner wasn't ready yet. If you'd leave me alone instead of whining at me I'd have it done already! Instead: Henry I know you are hungry. You're frustrated dinner is taking so long. I'm trying my hardest to hurry, but I am pretty distracted by talking to you about when dinner will be ready. I think if you found an activity to do time would pass more quickly and I would be able to concentrate better and get it done faster. or, You silly goose! Pants are for your legs not your head! You're such a silly goose.
Instead: Are you making a joke? Pants usually go on your legs not your head right!? That's so funny!
If you value one emotion over another, your child will quickly understand that some feelings are worthy of praise and others should be avoided.
You were so brave at the dentist today! You didn't even cry one bit! I am so proud of you! Instead: What did you think of the dentist today? How was it for you?
Watch for subtle clues you give that show judgement. Do you roll your eyes when telling your girlfriend about the meltdown over the sippy cup? These hints of your displeasure are not invisible.
7. Expressing yourself
Do not hide what you are feeling.
Oh, Mama's fine honey. I know I was crying but it's nothing. Did you finish the t.v. show? Are you hungry?
Instead: Yeah I am crying. I feel sad. It's not for you to worry about honey, it's for the grown-ups to worry about. I'm sad but I'm still your mama and I can take care of you even if I'm sad.
Let your own feelings be known. There is no need to tell your child all the details of your personal life or financial situation, but you can express your true feelings. Model what you'd like to see from them.