An Emotional Education: Why Negative Feelings Matter for Kids

Metro parent's editor-in-chief discusses the March 2018 issue of Metro Parent and how parents can help kids manage negative emotions.

Almost a year ago, Temple Grandin said something really profound that has stuck with me.

If you don’t know who Temple Grandin is, you should. She’s a leading expert in animal science who teaches at Colorado State University. She also has autism and, as a result, she tours the country to talk about her experience and offer advice on how parents and educators can help children on the spectrum become their very best selves. An HBO movie starring Claire Danes captured her no-nonsense style of communication and amazing life story. She’s an inspiration – and we brought her in as our keynote speaker at Metro Parent’s Living with Autism Workshop last year.

Among the many words of wisdom she shared that spring afternoon, one sort of throwaway opinion seemed particularly profound and broadly relevant: “If we let boys cry, there would be less violence in the world.”

Think about that for a second. Really let it sink in.

What if we allowed boys and men to cry without shame?

What if our culture didn’t create some subtle or not-so-subtle cues that told men that they were not allowed to be weak and that the most socially acceptable way to express their emotions was through anger?

Would there be less violence in the world if we let men show their emotions in a vulnerable way instead of just an aggressive one?

I think Temple Grandin has a point. And, actually, her point applies to all of us – in how we process our own “negative” emotions and how we raise our kids to process theirs. It reminds me of the scene from Pixar’s Inside Out when Joy keeps trying to talk Bing Bong out of being upset. She pressures him to move on, put a smile on his face and get over his feelings. It doesn’t work. What does work? When Sadness sidles up to him and gives him permission to feel what he’s feeling. Only then can he feel better and, yes, bounce back.

So many times, well-meaning parents take a page out of Joy’s playbook. But what is the message? Stop feeling what you’re feeling? That’s a lot easier said than done, and the truth is, it doesn’t work. The feelings are still there, we just shut down or act out in different ways.

The same goes for anger. Anger is a natural human emotion, but it scares us – especially when we see it in our kids. We don’t want them to scream or throw things or have tantrums in the middle of stores. But so often in our effort to curb what we see as bad behavior, we take it too far and communicate to kids that they aren’t entitled to feel very real human emotions.

Look, this stuff isn’t easy. You want to comfort your kids. You want them to act appropriately. No one is saying you should just stand by and let your child sob uncontrollably or lob toys at your head, but the way we help our kids manage “negative” emotions warrants some deeper consideration. And in this month’s issue of Metro Parent, we tackle just that.

This might seem like an overstatement, but I don’t think it is: It’s possible that by changing the way we process and communicate our emotions, we’ll change the world. If not, we might change the lives of our children. And, really, isn’t that the same thing?


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