The power of acceptance: helping children and ourselves navigate emotions

November 6, 2023

Some researchers suggest that the belief and at times pressure to always be happy can work to undermine our lives. This is because life is a combination of both pain and pleasure, so if we attempt to eliminate pain by seeking constant pleasure or distracting ourselves from it, we miss out on the opportunity to experience, accept, and transform it into something more.

All emotions are natural responses and interconnected

It is important to recognise that when we try to suppress negative emotions, we remove positive emotions as well. Before children are exposed to a culture that prioritizes pleasure through material possessions, they have a better understanding of what truly satisfies them – connection. This connection involves feeling understood, acknowledged by their parents and caregivers, as well as finding meaning and coherence in their surroundings.
In order to foster this sense of being understood, children require us to accept and validate all their emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, and joy. However, we can only effectively do this if we are in touch with our own emotions.

Distracting away from feelings

Distraction is a strategy often adopted by parents to redirect their children from their current experiences. While it is a commonly used approach, it is seldom the most suitable choice. This is because distraction involves manipulation, which in the long run won’t contribute to your child’s ability to find happiness.

When you consistently use distraction to steer your child away from their feelings or experiences, you inadvertently hinder their capacity to focus. Consider it this way: when your child gets hurt, has their feelings bruised, or encounters disappointments, using distraction to divert them from their emotions rather than assisting them in processing those feelings discourages them from maintaining their attention during challenging situations. You certainly wouldn’t want your child to easily lose focus when faced with difficult tasks.

One of the reasons you may find it tempting to downplay a child’s emotional experience by distracting them or invalidating their feelings is because you’re viewing the situation from your point of view, not theirs. A baby naturally experiences emotions without control. As a child matures, they can gradually learn to observe and manage their feelings, but they cannot do this in isolation. They require someone to acknowledge and support as they navigate their emotional growth.

In our strong desire to manage our children’s happiness, there are times when we inadvertently push them away when they are angry or sad. However, for optimal mental well-being, children need their emotions to be acknowledged, with guidance on expressing their feelings in socially accepted ways- a need that extends to adults as well.

Consequently, it’s crucial to acknowledge our own emotions rather than suppressing them and equally important to accept our children, whatever emotions they may be experiencing.

By assisting a child in expressing their feelings through words (or art), we aid them in processing those emotions and finding constructive ways to communicate their inner world.