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6 Things You Want Your Kids To Be Able To Do – pt 4

April 9, 2019

What is the feeling you most consistently have?  That should be an easy question to answer, right?  Nope.  It’s a toughie.  There’s no right or wrong answer to it, but it’s tough to come up with.  Go ahead and take a few minutes to ponder your answer.

Emotions – feelings – are powerful.  They can be denied, sublimated, stuffed, but all attempts to make them disappear or go away without processing them are futile.  When feelings go underground (which is what happens when they’re denied, sublimated, stuffed), they rarely die.  At the most socially inappropriate and inconvenient times, they resurrect and begin wrecking everything within their very wide reach.  It can be entertaining if you’re an observer, but it’s devastating if it’s happening to you.  Which is why number 4 on my list is so important.

  • To know the difference between needs and wants
  • To know the difference between suffering and inconvenience
  • To know how to sacrifice for someone or something
  • To know how to express their emotions in appropriate ways
  • To know how to make, save and spend money
  • To know how to say yes and no

Knowing how to express emotions appropriately is one of the primary marks of maturity in people.  Only mature people can pull this off.  And even for mature people, it’s often not easy.

Step number one for knowing how to express emotions appropriately is learning how to identify them.  I often joke that most men have a feelings vocabulary of only a few words: happy, sad, mad, hungry, tired.  There are a few others that go on most men’s list, but not too many.  In my work with people for these last four decades, I can tell you that this really isn’t a joke.  It’s the sad truth.

Women, on the other hand, have an extensive list.  They expand a man’s list exponentially.  Not by hundreds, but easily by dozens.  Generally, they’re more expressive of their feelings than men, too.

In both genders, though, I see emotions usually being expressed but not being identified.  I see men acting in emotional ways, like in anger, but not identifying the emotion of anger.  I see women doing the same thing.  And guess what?  I see kids doing this.

Kids are usually highly emotional beings.  And usually, they’re unaware of the specific feeling they’re feeling.  They just act it out.  They’re pretty good at acting it out, but not so good at knowing when and where to do this.  And they’re almost never able to identify what they’re feeling.  That’s why they need you to be a consistent, mature model and teacher for them.

Just like with all the other things on my list, the two ways you teach appropriate emotion expression to your kids is by what you say and what you do.  For you to be able to teach your kids how to express their emotions appropriately, you’ve got to know how to do this for yourself.  Bummer.  And like I said a few paragraphs ago, you’ve got to be able to identify your feelings if you hope to express them appropriately.  How consistently do you do this?  Lots of us aren’t great at it.

There are hundreds of resources on the Internet for identifying feelings and emotions.  Everything from the most basic and simple graphic charts for children, up to complex charts for therapists to work with.  If you Google “feelings chart” you’ll see tons of them.  It would probably be a smart thing to click around with this a little, and utilize resources that are available.

Talking about your feeling, identifying them out loud in the presence of your kids, is a very good thing to do.  You don’t need to make that the sum total of your conversations with them, but if you don’t model identifying your feelings, your kids are very unlikely to ever be able to do this for themselves.  Dinner table talk is a great place for this kind of conversation.  Share a feeling you experienced in your day, and tell them what you did about it.  Then ask them what feelings they had in their day, and what they did about them.  Or ask everybody at the table to share the feeling they had the most during the day, and why.  Don’t make it a family therapy session, though.  Just make it a safe, even fun, place to share.  Above all, DO NOT JUDGE!  Nothing will make your kids run from their emotions like being judged (or feeling they’re being judged) for having them.

Learning how to talk about your emotions is hard enough, but learning how to model acting appropriately when you feel them is way hard.  Maybe among the top 3 or 4 hardest things in life to pull off.  Doing this takes practice and very high levels of self-awareness, along with the last thing on the list of the Fruit of the Spirit: Self-control.

Believe it or not, one of the best things you can do in this is to admit it when you blow it.  Don’t excuse it by saying some form of, “I did this, but they made me do it.”  Own your feelings and your failings, when they happen.  Don’t push the blame for your behavior off on anybody or anything else.  Admit what you did, and then talk about what you wish you had done, instead.  This is very good for your kids.  It gives them a pattern to model when they blow it, which they will do.  It’s also very good for you.  Thinking and talking through a better response is one of the best things you can do for yourself to form a better habit for appropriate emotional expression.

I think there are two things that most often get in the way of this kind of modeling.  First there is habit.  However old you are is how many years you’ve been grooving in your habits of emotional response and reaction.  The longer you’ve had a habit, the more difficult it is to break it.  Breaking a long-standing habit is unnatural and difficult.  The odds are good that your current habits of emotional expression are the same ones you grew up seeing in your family of origin.  That loads the habit with all kinds of powerful stuff.  So habit can get in the way.

But the other thing is possibly even more powerful than habit.  It is PRIDE.  I don’t know that this is true for women, but I can say for myself and the other men I’ve been close to in my life, talking about what I feel is strongly pushed against by my pride.  To admit to a failure in expressing my emotions appropriately, I have to swallow my pride and make myself vulnerable.  I hate this.  I hate feeling like I’m revealing a part of myself I want to keep hidden.  And I hate that I have this very strong pride-motivated desire to be invulnerable.

If you’re a dad, pushing through your pride, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Who wants to help you do this more than you want to do it), is more important than you may realize.  Modeling the humility and self-awareness it takes to do this is huge.  You kids notice.  Even if they can’t articulate what’s involved for you to do this, they see it, and they will mirror your modeling.

Mom, your model is no less essential and powerful.  You already know that there’s almost no time that your kids are in your presence that they’re not watching you, catching all sorts of stuff from you.

A mom and dad who are both deadly serious about growing in their maturity in Christ, reflected in their effort to express their emotions appropriately, is one of finest gifts any kid will ever get.  Mom and Dad may do it differently (probably should be doing it differently), but when they partner with God to grow up in this area, their kids notice.  And, even when a kid may not want it, they get the positive backwash of it, and that leads to them developing the skill of expressing their emotions in appropriate ways.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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