Mindfulness Motherhood Personal Growth Relationships

Raising ‘Emotionally Agile’ Children

July 17, 2018

When my now 11 year old son was 2, we had a ‘feelings chart.’ Each day he would pick the face of how he was feeling and stick it on his chart with velcro. We would then talk about what may have led him to feel this way. It seemed silly at the time, but what I was teaching him was that all of our emotions are valuable. They are guiding us and teaching us, helping us and healing us.

How often do we say to our children “you’re ok!” We do so with the best intent, but we are teaching our children that being “okay’ is the only way to be. Somewhere along the line we’ve been misguided to believe that happy is the only way we should be feeling. This is leading to a great deal of very depressed people-the leading cause of disability globally. If you have not seen this TED talk by Susan David called “The gift and power of emotional courage” I highly recommend watching it. In it, she talks about the whole ‘positivity’ movement and how it has become a tyranny to be positive.

We should be teaching our children that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. 

My boys recently lost someone they really loved, and developed a bond with. It wasn’t a death, but it felt the same to them. All at once I had to push my own feelings aside to deal with a level hurt in them that I never experienced before. As difficult as this was for me, I knew in my heart this was a teaching opportunity for them, a growth lesson. I knew what I had to do.

As a culture in general we fear any strong emotion. We want to fix things at all cost-find immediate peace – to not feel anything intense. We want to bandage up our children so they don’t have to feel any hurt. We’ve learned somewhere along the way that intense feelings are too scary to handle.

We do whatever it takes to not have to feel, which is why we are now a culture filled with terrible addictions-escapes-easy buttons, shallow easy social media connections, swiping left and right on each other, and a very scary level of disconnection.

Children are taught that anger and emotion = bad and wrong. I’m just as guilty. When my children are flipping out I can’t handle the noise sometimes, and I want it to stop. We teach them to control their anger at all cost. We punish them when they are working through something in a ‘loud’ way.

Anger is not bad or wrong.

What we don’t realize is that anger is a beast that cannot be controlled. It can only be placed elsewhere, redirected, or pushed down inside us, building up like a volcano. Trust me when I say the feelings come up again, and probably in a very misdirected way, because we’ve lost touch with why we were feeling them. The best thing we can do is talk to our children openly about their feelings-their anger-their emotions. Help them to understand that what they are feeling is normal and natural and okay. Maybe the next time it won’t feel so turbulent and scary.

When we feel sad or angry or upset we want to hide it from our children so they never see that adults have real feelings. In doing so, we are stunting their emotional development and their ability to handle real raw heartfelt emotion. We teach them that emotions are something to be very afraid of. In doing so, we are creating distanced, scared, and emotionally immature adults.

There are many different ways I could have handled both my pain and their pain.

I could have put on my happy face, pretended everything was okay in the world, sugar coated everything, and told them that they would be fine. Avoided completely that this was even something to be upset over. Minimized. Pretended all was well in the world. I’ve done this in the past when they were hurting. I’ve sang and danced and told them “you’re ok” put on my happy face, not realizing that they really were not okay and had a massive mountain of pain to process. Also not realizing that children know when you are faking happiness. They inherently know when you are hurting.

It’s scary to be a mother and to try to figure out the best way to help our children learn to navigate realities of life. We don’t receive a guidebook. I heeded the advice of a relationship therapist.

I chose the most difficult and scary thing. I chose to be real, raw, honest, and painfully truthful with them. I told them that I was just as hurt and confused as they were. I cried with them. We all hugged each other. We sobbed together-several nights in a row. I told them that it’s okay to be sad, or hurt, or angry, or anything else they felt. I told that that we would get through this together, and that it would take some time, but eventually we would feel better. I told them we would be okay, but first we had a lot feelings to feel. I emphasized how important it was to allow ourselves to feel whatever it is that came up. To not try and push it away.

Allow them to fully express in any way they can.

One thing I noticed is that through this open and honest dialogue, my bond with them strengthened and their relationship with each other strengthened as well. Even my very guarded ‘heart close to the vest’ son yelled “why!” at the top of his lungs several times. I just held him and allowed him to express. I noticed that each child dealt with their emotions differently and in their own time. My more reserved son took it the hardest, and cried the most. My other son was more protective of me, and my feelings. I had to coax him some to express himself. I was thankful that they were able to process this experience in a safe and healthy way. I realized I had given them a gift, by allowing them to express anger.

Through this experience they learned some life lessons. They learned that life will not always be easy. People will hurt them, and it’s okay to get mad. It’s not okay to pretend everything is okay, and to just go on with your normal life. It’s healthy to cry, and scream, and punch the S*&% out of your pillow! and damn if you don’t feel so much better afterward.

Sometimes people we love make bad decisions and hurt us.

We talked about what we learned through this experience-how not to treat the people you love.

Children are resilient (we like to say). Resilience does not mean we deny them the expression of emotion.

Another tip:

Big piece of paper and red crayon. Go nuts and allow anger to flow through that crayon onto the paper.

The kids drew “clown vomit” with crayons….lots of loose intense scribbles, with anger in their faces-yet they were able to laugh afterward.

Don’t shy away from the hard stuff-it’s creating a detached, loveless world. Feel hard, love hard, and teach your children to do the same!



  • Reply
    Liver King
    July 18, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    Great piece… thank you for writing it. I have little savages running around and I’m always thinking about this sort of stuff and how anti-social media, fake trophies, statements like “you can have (or be) anything you want” (even without working hard for it), and impatience feeds into this broken feedback loop.

    I wonder how our early ancestors would have raised their young to support emotional health and/or if those things were just inherent in their way of life. I wonder if we can identify those things and bring some of those practices into our modern world.

  • Reply
    Kathryn L Kos
    July 19, 2018 at 9:49 am

    I could not agree with you more. Social media is so destructive! People are validating their major life decisions through fake ‘positivity’ memes on instagram. Spiritual bypassing is huge right now. People so afraid of emotion. It’s much easier to place our energy in fake social media then it is to live in reality. Major broken feedback loop.

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