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MomTalk.com April 20, 2018:   The women's magazine for moms about children, family, health, home, fashion, careers, marriage & more


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Helping Your Child Manage Negative Emotions

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Diane C. Shearer, M.A.


It is natural for parents to want to protect their children from experiencing feelings like sadness, anger, disappointment and frustration. Unfortunately, children of divorced and single parent homes often must contend with these negative feelings. If one parent isn't following through with promises, for instance, kids become disappointed. The economic frustrations of divorce and single parenting can often leave kids feeling angry when their parents can no longer support their interests and activities with the same enthusiasm. When kids have to go between homes regularly, they may experience intense sadness at not being able to be with the absent parent. All of these emotions are valid, and none of them can be remedied easily. It is tempting for parents to want to "fix" them and make it all better, but attempting that can sometimes be more destructive than helpful. Instead, both the custodial and non-custodial parents must find ways to help their children manage these feelings, not eliminate them.


Many single parents perceive that their child's negative feelings are a result of the other parent's mistakes or self-centeredness, so it can be frustrating to realize that there is no way to protect a child from experiencing that parent in a negative way. Thankfully, the job of a single parent is to help their child manage their feelings, not control the actions of the other parent (which is an impossible goal). If this is an issue you struggle with, it can actually be quite liberating to finally let go of your anger toward the other parent and just take care of your child instead. What all children need is at least one parent who is willing to be the non-anxious listener and provide a safe place for kids to express what they are experiencing. Here are a few tips to help you achieve this important role:


Do not judge your children's feelings - they are entitled to all of them. If a child is sad, it doesn't help to tell them they shouldn't be sad. It is better to respond by saying, "I'm not sure I understand why you feel this way, but it's okay that you do. Why don't you tell me more about it?" Respond in a way that will encourage them to talk to you about anything they feel in the future. When kids are consistently judged or questioned for feeling something negative, they learn quickly to not share that feeling again with their parents. When they feel supported and normal for having intense feelings, they are more likely to return to that source of support later.


Do not take advantage of the chance to talk negatively about the other parent when your kids present the opportunity. Kids may share their disappointments with you about the other parent because they have strong feelings of sadness or disappointment. In these moments, they do not need you to agree with their negative assessments (causing them to question their own self-worth), but they simply need for you to listen and affirm them. Say something like, "I'm sorry your mother didn't call you like she promised. I would be disappointed, too, if I were you. I don't know why she did that, but I do know it's not because of anything you did. You are a great kid - and I can speak to that!" This helps to protect your child's self-esteem since most of their questions of sadness and disappointment about the other parent are really questions about themselves. They wonder, "If my own mom doesn't care about me, I must not be worth much," or "If my dad is a liar, I must be bad, too, since I am part of him." You can help them to see that they are valuable individuals, no matter what their parents do or say.


Set clear boundaries about how your children are allowed to express their feelings. Feelings and behavior are two separate issues. Children should be allowed to feel whatever they feel, however, not all behaviors as a result of those feelings should be acceptable. Divorce or family change might help us explain your child's negative behaviors, but should not excuse them. For example, a child may lash out at his siblings when he is really angry about the divorce, but that doesn't mean he should have permission to physically hurt them. Instead, teach your children productive, assertive ways to deal with their anger. Give them options, such as writing in their anger journal, punching a special pillow in their room, or creative or constructive activities that will help them dissipate their angry energy. Then encourage them to talk through their feelings with you once they have had time to cool down. Also, modeling good anger management in front of your children will also have a positive impact.


It is vitally important that you avoid sending the message to your children that feeling a particular emotion is wrong. All emotions are acceptable. It's what we do with them that ultimately determines right or wrong.


Diane Chambers Shearer is a family counselor, divorce mediator, and parent educator in Atlanta, Georgia. She is author of Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families (Fairview Press, 1997) and publishes The Peaceful Co-Parent, a quarterly newsletter for divorce parents. For ordering information, visit her web site at web site.

Photo courtesy of Marlon Paul Bruin



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