All of us want our children to open up to us and find solace in our presence. And there’s a secret sauce to accessing your child’s heart – acknowledging their feelings.
2-year-old Jayden was browsing in a toy store and picked up the coolest toy car he had ever laid eyes on. He told mom he wanted to get it. But mom told Jayden that they couldn’t because it was too expensive. Jayden began to cry and fall to the ground, flailing his arms and legs. Watching this, mom didn’t scold Jayden or worry about his behaviour in public. She didn’t even persuade him saying that there were already so many toy cars at home. Instead, Jayden’s mom acknowledged his feelings at the time – that Jayden really liked the toy car and wanted to bring it home.
Acknowledging your child’s feelings will let them know you understand how they feel. Sometimes your child’s response or feelings toward something might be nonsensical, selfish or wrong to you but it is very real for them at the moment and we can acknowledge them without allowing inappropriate behaviour.
When you acknowledge feelings, you are letting your child know you understand and accept their inner world, regardless of whether their feelings are positive or negative. When your child feels that you understand them, they begin to have a sense of trust in the relationship.
As humans, we just want to be understood, seen and heard by the people closest to us. It’s the same with your child.
5 benefits to acknowledging your child’s feelings
1. Helps foster emotional intelligence
When we verbally acknowledge feelings, we teach children that the feelings they experience within have a name and can be identified. When we label those feelings with words, they’ll learn to be aware of what’s going on inside them and begin to build self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Giving the feeling a name could sound like – “You’re feeling disappointed because we have to go home now.”
2. It lets children know it’s OK to have negative emotions – negative emotions aren’t bad
Children need to know that having negative emotions like anger, sadness and disappointment are all ok and don’t need to be pushed away. By acknowledging children’s negative emotions, they can know that everyone experiences these emotions from time to time and that they are allowed to feel them just as they are allowed to feel positive emotions.
3. Communicates “I love you no matter what”
When we accept and acknowledge children’s feelings at their most vulnerable times, like during a tantrum, we help them feel deeply loved and accepted. We communicate “I accept you and am willing to understand you even at your worst”. They don’t have to “behave” in order for us to love them.
A note though – accepting their feelings doesn’t mean we accept inappropriate behaviour. It means we acknowledge the feelings behind the behaviour.
4. Helps us understand our children’s inner world and empathize with them better
In order to truly acknowledge children’s feelings, we’ve got to dig deep and practice active listening, not just to their words but also to their actions. When we do this, we’ll have a deeper understanding of our children’s inner world and empathize with them better. When we see the world through our children’s eyes, we may start to be more patient with them because we understand their point of view.
5. Helps children open up to us easier
When our children have had repeated experiences of us accepting and acknowledging their feelings, it sets them up to open up to us easier in the future because they know we would listen to them and accept them. On the contrary, children wouldn’t feel the desire to show their hearts to us if we constantly denied or dismissed their feelings.
Acknowledging feelings might be a simple concept but it can be hard to put into practice. Because of how we were brought up or societal norms, acknowledging other people’s feelings, let alone children’s feelings might not be something that comes natural to us. But if we want to build intimate relationships with our children, being intentional about acknowledging their feelings can bring you deeper into their hearts.