What I Do When My Kids Say, “OUCH!”
By: Susan Stutzman, MA Licensed Professional Counselor
Recently, I watched my children play when one of my daughters tumbled a bit. As I went to check on her, I saw she was physically fine but momentarily a bit jostled. As I like to do, I began to help my daughter act out what happened and offer to kiss it, letting her know that I saw her tumble, would validate that it was scary and offer comfort.
If you were to overhear this exchange, you’d hear me say “Ouch” while I act out what I saw happen. I’d then offer comfort and validation, saying “Mama kiss it.” Sometimes one enactment is enough, but it’s often repeated. Eventually, it ends in laughter and she’s on her way again.
On this particular day, a friend of mine said her son asked for kisses all the time when hurt. What she said next was something I couldn’t shake. Flippant, calloused and with a laugh she expressed, “Wow, we are raising our kids to be big babies.”
As I mulled over these words, I wondered why they didn’t sit well with me. Was my parenting strategy really going to raise big babies? Why did I feel so resistant to what she believed?
I realized that for me, the exchange on that playground with my daughter was much more than a gesture. The exchange was, in my eyes, a lesson for her, which I seek to offer daily as a parent to young children. The lesson is part of my core belief structure, which I hope to pass on to all of my children and many around me.
I believe that emotional health is being able to express your feelings, knowing that they are valid—even if they are not “right”, seen or heard. Far too often, people are told what to feel. Nobody hears this more than our kids.
The act of telling a child how to feel can come in the form of words, commands or actions (e.g. saying “you’re fine” while brushing away tears). This is evidenced as children seek to emulate or mirror behavior so as to gain approval. Emulating and mirroring is a survival skill. It’s a wonderful gift, but it can also be a breeding ground for learning dysfunctional responses. Showing and telling a child that their feelings don’t matter, even in small ways can begin to cause all types of emotional dis-regulation for them. As they grow, they need guides to help them express their feelings in a healthy and safe environment.
When healthy feeling expression is modeled, children grow into adolescents and then adults who have the opportunity to become emotionally well-adjusted and healthy human beings. The opposite is true for children who are told how to feel. They often become adolescents and adults riddled with anxiety and fear, living life as “well behaved” but often never feeling acceptable because they have never learned to accept themselves and their true feelings. These children become parents and often the cycle of suppressing children’s true feelings in a healthy manner is repeated generation after generation.
But there is good news, and it’s something I’ve said already: humans are mirroring creatures. Cycles can be changed! With hard work, consistency and dedication you can begin a lifestyle of change.
Accepting my own feelings and emotions is a change I have sought in my adult life. This acceptance is something I have surrounded myself with and am seeking to model to my children. I see now that my friend’s comment sat wrong with me because her statement was an old message I used to hear as a child but don’t believe to be true any longer. People are worth stopping for, listening to and being present with. I believe that in moments of presence, a silent or spoken validation can take place.
When an individual is validated, feelings of empowerment are born. The God of the universe sees each and every human being and is using each and every experience to craft His perfect plan for us. All of what makes us individuals is important, including our emotions, our hurts and our feelings. When we believe this about ourselves, we can experience lasting validation knowing that He stops for us.
As parents, God gave us a unique opportunity to model His love and value to our children. This is a high calling and, at times, a daunting task. But I believe Jesus wants our children to know He cares all of the time, whether you’re happy, hurt or just jostled by life. He wants you to come to Him always. Jesus is ready to listen. He shows us that he loves us, that he cares, and ultimately, that he makes all things new so there will be no more pain.
And yet, we will always have emotion. So parents, re-enact with your children the care and love of Jesus. Keep showing them you see. As for me, I know I’ll keep up offering mama kisses.
Want to discuss or explore steps on your journey towards accepting all of you and your feelings? Do you desire to become a more accepting and loving parent? Please give me a call at [630-588-1201 extension 342.