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Acknowledge feelings to connect

Vickie Falcone
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At last it’s summer; the time we parents can look forward to special times with our children … the picnics, the concerts, the bike rides, the meltdowns. What? That wasn’t part of your idyllic Colorado family summer, you say? Reality can sink in fast when the temperature is on the rise and little Johnny is downing his third blue snowcone. The other reality: Many upsets and misbehaviors can be minimized in a hurry when we learn the skill of acknowledging our child’s feelings. When Johnny melts down, parents can sometimes be heard offering not-so-helpful suggestions such as, “You’re fine,” “Big boys don’t cry,” or, “Calm down!” When we shut down our child’s feelings by minimizing, denying, or any number of other emotional stoppers, we sever the communication lines and usually intensify the upset. When we acknowledge their feelings, we open the communication lines and help them calm down and feel more connected to us. In our desire to help our child, we often skip over the important first step of empathizing with how they feel. Ironically, diving into and naming what your child is feeling actually helps them to move through the feeling faster. We acknowledge feelings when we say things such as, “Sounds like you’re upset,” “You seem sad,” or, “I really hear what you are saying.” Rudolf Dreikurs put this aptly when he said, “An emotion that is repressed, persists. Feelings that are accepted or acknowledged lose their destructive charge.” What we resist, persists. Feelings create connection, and this way of speaking has been painfully absent from many of our families of origin. It’s important that we commit to break this destructive chain. Dr. John Gottman, author of “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” conducted extensive longitudinal research on children and discovered many characteristics of what he refers to as emotion-coached children. These children: are better at focusing attention; relate better to other people, even in tough situations like getting teased in middle school; are better in school situations that require academic performance; and have fewer infectious diseases.Anytime is the ideal time to acknowledge your child’s feelings. To build a strong connection with your child, practice deep listening: when your child is feeling content; to calm a fight; when you or they are making a request; after a separation; when you want to get their attention; instead of yelling or threatening; and as a regular family activity. It’s never too late to create a more connected relationship with your child. If you feel like you did not receive the experience of having your feelings acknowledged and want to pass this on to your children, do not despair. One of the grand possibilities of parenthood is that we have the chance to experience these gifts when we give them to our child. We get to experience the joy of deeply hearing someone even if as a child, we felt unheard. In the process we all get to heal.Vickie Falcone works at YouthZone with kids who want tools to succeed and parents who want to raise more responsible kids. She has been teaching parents how to create households that are respectful, cooperative and empowering for more than 14 years.


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