When I was a teenager, I was a complete nightmare. I had an attitude that made my grandmother’s face go pale and a toughness that very few people could break through. All of my feelings and the trauma I experienced as a child had transformed into concrete.
As a teenager, I really didn’t know how to identify what I was feeling. I understood when I was angry, sad or nervous but I don’t think I used the word anxious to describe what I was feeling until a couple of years after college when I decided I wanted to see a therapist to manage my stress, sadness and what I later realized was anxiety. In the last two years, I have focused deeply on my emotions, past relationships, my past in general and have worked with my therapist to analyze my experiences and understand myself a little better. It’s a work in progress of course but I’ve definitely made progress and I am very grateful for the opportunity to work through my feelings and situations with a professional.
Emotional validation and affirmation is not just present with my therapist. I have family and friends who work really hard to listen to me when I’m speaking and help me navigate through difficult situations. I know that in my youth, there were adults in my life who I felt listened to me and were curious about me. There were adults in my life that made me feel heard and those were the adults that have impacted me in a positive way. I often wonder what my life would have been like before therapy if the people in my life consistently encouraged positive emotional development in my youth?
My friend Jill recently posted a wonderful resource from the Gottman Institute advising adults on the different ways they can validate children. Instead of telling our children to stop crying or being dramatic, what if we got down to their level and helped them process what they were feeling? What if as adults, we activated our emotional IQs to model for our children how to be sensitive and smart about their emotions? Could this lead to a generation of less angry teenagers? Of adults with less trauma to unpack?
As a classroom teacher, there were so many instances when I did not say the right thing and I definitely did not make room to hear my students. There were more instances when I did truly try my best to hear them out and that’s when I was most successful.
Below, are a couple of the responses I really love from this poster.
- It’s ok to be sad:This simple line teaches our children that feelings are not wrong. It teaches children that they don’t need to be ashamed of what they are feeling.
- I will help you work it out:This recognizes that they are children. They don’t have all of the answers and that’s why we are there. We are there to help children navigate what they are feeling, name what they are feeling and address what they are feeling in appropriate ways.
- I’m listening: What better way to help a child express themselves then to listen to them and ask them about what they are going through? This teaches children not to bottle up their emotions.
- I hear that you need space. I want to be here for you. I’ll stay close so you can find me when you’re ready: I really love these three responses because it empowers a child to speak their truth at a young age. Some of us as adults really benefit from being close to somebody else when we are upset. Others like to hide behind closed doors when they cry. I am definitely somebody who hates to cry in front of others and so I understand a child who needs space when they are upset. Giving a child the opportunity to get themselves together teaches them that they don’t need to deal with it right away and that you will be there to talk about it when THEY see fit, not you.