Kids usually do the best they know how to express their feelings — which is usually quite immature and unrefined. A problem occurs when, instead of validating our kids’ best efforts to express their feelings, we minimize, invalidate, or even punish their expression.
Like this: “Stop your crying! It will be fine.” Or, “Settle down! There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Or, “Get over it! This is no big deal.” Or, “If you keep that up you’ll be in trouble!”
To respond this way may seem like you’re teaching your child mental toughness. But you may in fact be doing the opposite, as over time the implicit message in these words is, “Your feelings don’t matter. Bury them.” Or more deeply, “You are defective for feeling that way.” Over time these messages can lead kids into deep discouragement.
So instead of minimizing or invalidating your (sad, scared, confused, insecure, frustrated or otherwise emotionally unsettled) child, try gently and lovingly putting words in their mouth and give them a chance to say them for themselves.
Like this: “You’re sad right now, aren’t you? It’s OK.” Offer a hug or some safe physical expression of love. Then give a chance to practice saying it. “You can use your words. If you’re sad you can say, ‘I’m sad!’ Give it a try.”
This is just the start of helping your child grow in emotional intelligence — the ability to name and express hard feelings. Many humans grow up ill-equipped to do this and then we wonder why grown-ups can act so irrationally sometimes.
Teach your kids early and often and it will bear much fruit as they grow.