Be A Great Parent: Let Your Kids Feel

In our quest to be great parents and have great performing children, we have gone way overboard towards what’s being called helicopter parenting or bubble-wrap parenting.   We have great intentions but are we doing what’s in the best interest of our kids?   By overprotecting them, are we providing them with the necessary life-skills to manage, handle and cope with the difficulties and challenges that come along in the daily journey of Life.  Are we preparing them to be competent, confident and resilient people?

Think of the goals we want for our children.  I’m pretty sure we would all agree that we’d like our kids to be independent, successful, happy adults who are responsible and capable.  We want them to be able to have good jobs, be in good relationships and live productive lives.  (Feel free to comment below if I’ve left out any important goals here.)

Preparation for this starts now in the raising of our children.  These are the practice years where they must get these necessary skills and try them out.   But all too often by rushing in and doing For them, we are stripping them of the opportunities to do just that – to Try and Practice using them.

  • They can’t first learn responsibility as an adult if they’ve never had to become and take responsibility as a child.
  • They can’t first learn to deal with their negative emotions as an adult if they’ve never been allowed to feel badly and see they can come out of it intact.
  • They can’t learn to stand back up and continue on if they’ve never been allowed to fall down and yes, even fail as children.

(Having said that, I need to qualify those statements by saying that yes, we as adults can learn, re-learn, undo and grow even if we lacked certain skills and ingredients growing up.  But it is a bit of a job and self-improvement takes a lot of inner work.)

I would like to focus on the point of dealing with our children’s emotions as a foundation for everything else.  For this is the crux of emotional and mental health.  This is the main ingredient for happiness, success, productivity and overall living well.  It all starts within.

We must allow our children to feel.

That means the good easy feelings of joy, excitement, silliness as well as the difficult feelings, the ones that make us feel uncomfortable; the ones that make us want to wipe it all away – the sadness, the pain, the anger.  We naturally don’t want our kids feeling badly.

We want to make them happy.  But by denying them their ‘bad’ feelings, we are taking away their ‘right’ to feel their true feelings; and thereby not giving them that all important message of, ‘you can feel lousy and still come through it. We all know adults who cannot tolerate their negative emotions, their pain and sadness, and therefore numb it with drugs and alcohol.

We must acknowledge our children’s feelings.

“I see you’re upset.”   “That must’ve been hard for you.”  “That sounds frustrating.”
We need to give them permission to feel.   All feelings are acceptable, but not all actions are.  It’s the actions that sometimes need to be limited.  But the feelings must not be denied.

We as parents need to get beyond our own discomfort and our own need to ‘make it all better’ by trying to ‘fix’ the problem.   Oftentimes it’s enough to be understood.  That can go a long way in soothing one’s heart and soul.  We all know how good it feels when somebody ‘gets us’.

So we start by building that connection by simply acknowledging.   There’s always time for problem-solving later.
This is a great listening skill.  So go practice and see how it feels, to you and your kids.

From: Harriet Cabelly, who is a social worker and life coach emphasizing living life to its fullest and creating a good life out of (or despite) adversity. Read more about her at Rebuild Your Life Coach and read the latest from her blog.

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  1. I totally agree with the fact that you have to let children learn responsibility. Every time you “take over the steering wheel,” so to speak, you undermine your child’s feeling of competence. By single-handedly solving all of your child’s problems, you create a situation in which your child is crippled; he is permanently dependent on you. On the other hand, whenever you “get out of the way” and allow your child to flex his own problem-solving muscles or give him gentle encouragement from the sidelines, you foster your child’s independence, self-reliance and competence. You diminish your child’s internal power struggles to develop his own identity, giving him the confidence to turn to you for nurturance that has no age boundaries.
    Thanks for your great article!

    • Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for your wonderful comment. I see we’re on the same page here. Have you read some of the parenting ‘experts’ on this, like Kenneth Ginsburg, Wendy Mogel, Madeline Levine? Great listening to them and reading their books.

  2. Oh so true Harriett…love this. Great post. 🙂

    We must acknowledge our children’s feelings.
    “I see you’re upset.” “That must’ve been hard for you.” “That sounds frustrating.”
    We need to give them permission to feel. All feelings are acceptable, but not all actions are. It’s the actions that sometimes need to be limited. But the feelings must not be denied.

    Encourage one another.

    • Hi Elle,
      Great to ‘see’ you here. Thanks for the support over here.
      Yep, these are important messages, especially now-a-days when parents and kids are distanced from each other by the ‘other family’- technology.

  3. Well said Harriet,
    Learning and taking on responsibility is something lacking in many adults…..children being exposed to this in a caring way will equip them with much better skills in adulthood. Thankyou.
    be good to yourself

    • Hi David,
      Great to ‘see’ you over here. Yes, this stuff is certainly lacking in many people. It needs to start young. It’s our job as parents to “equip” them with these all important life-long skills of living well.
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Wow!… so needed, all the advice and pointers you’ve presented that many modern day parents could afford to consider, especially those with the single child.

    I am always alarmed when I observe the excessive coddling, the “rushing in,” and the overall intervention on the part of parents to heal a child’s hurt feelings and in some cases, to excuse their bad behavior. Acknowledging feelings is important but also teaching them how to handle them is equally important.

    Both are real, and should be appropriately addressed, not “pooh-poohed” or ‘rescued”, remembering that the real world is not so kind, and having the appropriate skills, as well as a sense of independence and confidence, vital traits that they will be needed once they step outside the “imposed cocoons” built by overly protective and defending parents.

    • Hi Vicki,
      I see we’re on the same page. I worked in the school system and seeing parents constantly excuse their child’s ‘bad’ behavior didn’t cease to amaze me. There was never any sense of responsibility,ownership or apology. So if parents are acting like this, is it any wonder kids develop such a sense of entitlement and complete lack of accountability and responsibility.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I see you’re a manners coach – how interesting.