Sharing feelings with children invites them to share feelings with parents: An example

There’s power in story-telling. Societies with a lot of stories about how life goes have less anti-social behavior among their members. I hear a lot of stories about parenting, however, most of them offer examples of what not to do, rather than what to do. I want to share a story of how a negative experience for me turned into a moment of emotional resonance and parent-child bonding with my 10-year-old son. This story underscored the necessity of sharing feelings with children. I hope it demonstrates to you the power of emotional literacy and how sharing feelings with children invites them to open up to us.

One day, I picked up my 10-year-old son from school. He told me had a horrible day and that I wouldn’t understand. He showed me his anger, but he didn’t show me what was underneath. He wouldn’t tell me what happened. The more I reached out to him, the further away he pushed me. I backed off and asked him if he would tell me when he was ready. He said he would.

The next morning, my son observed a brief encounter I had with an authority figure at his brother’s school. The gentleman dismissed me by saying, “Good-day, Ma’am,” rather than respond to my concern. I was so mad I wanted to berate him right there. I noted my anger and decided I would set up a time to talk to him. My oldest son and I returned to the car.

“I need a moment,” I said. I took some deep breaths and settled into my feelings. I started thinking about what I was feeling. I knew about the power of sharing feelings with children. So I shared what I was thinking. “He dismissed me and didn’t even hear my concern. I was mad and now I just feel sad because he didn’t even acknowledge me by hearing what I was saying.”

“Oh, I know, if I were you I’d be so mad.” He paused. “But, about the sad part, I know just how you feel, Mom,” my son said as he looked out the window.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes. That happened to me yesterday.” He went on to explain the situation at school, which beautifully mirrored what he had just observed. Then he said the part that really drove home the power of sharing feelings — even the negative ones — with children. “I didn’t think you’d understand.”

“You didn’t think I would understand your feelings so you kept them to yourself,” I reflected.

“Yes,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would ever treat you the way I was treated.”

As his mom, he sometimes views me as super-human, as if I don’t have weaknesses or bad experiences. But I do. I don’t need to share all my feelings and negative experiences with him, but I will certainly seek out more opportunity to share my authentic feelings (sadness in this case) when I can.

So many parents want to be perfect. I think this vignette beautifully highlights the value in our imperfection. Perfection is too high a standard. We don’t connect with perfection. We connect through what makes us human.

Parent Resources

Learn more about how to invite children to share feelings.

If you and your child are having a hard time connecting, consider play therapy. Learn more about play therapy at the Association for Play Therapy website.


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