- Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker, mental strength coach, and international bestselling author.
- She explains that while many parents help their children with homework and extracurricular activities, few make a conscious effort to teach their kids emotional regulation skills.
- Morin says to be careful of typical mistakes that can make harm your child’s emotional maturity, including shielding them from pain, punishing them for emotional outbursts, and hiding your own emotions from them.
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Most parents spend a lot of time talking about homework, chores, and sports, and much less time talking about feelings.
It’s an interesting phenomenon. Adults invest lots of energy making sure kids are ready to take on the responsibilities of adulthood in so many ways, yet we often forget to help them with the most vital skills of all – emotional regulation skills.
So it’s no wonder that 60% of college students report feeling emotionally unprepared for college.
Regardless of whether your child decides to become a teacher, physician, or stay-at-home parent, knowing how to cope with emotions will greatly affect their ability to succeed – as well as their overall life satisfaction.
Even well-intentioned parents who want their kids to learn about emotions can make mistakes that prevent them from learning vital emotional skills. Quite often, these mistakes are so common that parents don’t even realise they’re making them.
Here are seven parenting mistakes that prevent kids from learning healthy ways to cope with their feelings:
1. Shielding kids from pain
You don’t need to expose kids to hardship to “toughen” them up. But you also shouldn’t shield them from pain.
Let them fail sometimes. And when they make a mistake, let them experience the natural consequences.
They need to practice coping with rejection, bouncing back from failure, and pushing themselves when they feel tired. These painful moments in life are opportunities to build mental strength.
2. Taking responsibility for their emotions
Many parents feel like it’s their job to ensure that their kids feel happy all the time. They calm their kids down when they’re angry and cheer them up when they’re sad.
It’s tough to see kids upset. Parents take their kids out for ice cream when they get cut from the team, or they jump in to help with their homework at the first hint of frustration.
Consequently, kids don’t learn how to manage emotions on their own. Instead, they become increasingly dependent upon their parents to manage their feelings for them.
3. Invalidating their emotions
Kids can be dramatic and irrational. But saying things like, “Calm down. It’s not a big deal,” or “Don’t be scared. You’ll be fine,” implies that their feelings are wrong.
A healthier message is that whatever they’re feeling is OK – even when you think their emotions are a bit out of proportion to the situation.
So rather than saying, “Don’t feel bad,” make it clear, “I know you feel bad, but I think you’re strong enough to deal with this feeling.”
4. Punishing them for their feelings
Telling a child they’re going to time-out for crying sends a message that they’re being punished for their feelings.
Of course, it’s important for kids to express their emotions in a healthy way. But crying loudly in a store because you won’t buy them a treat isn’t acceptable.
Try saying, “You can’t scream loudly in the grocery store,” or “I know you are mad, but no hitting.” Make it known that the reason you’re giving a consequence isn’t because of their feelings – it’s because of the actions they chose.
5. Not teaching them healthy coping skills
Rather than proactively teaching kids how to cope with their feelings, adults often expect kids to learn it by watching others.
But they don’t necessarily know that Grandma knits because she’s anxious or that their teacher takes deep breaths when she’s angry.
It’s important to teach them hands-on coping skills and to help them find what works best for them. Colouring a picture might calm one child down while another child gets the most benefit from exercise. But they won’t know until they try.
6. Hiding emotions
Most parents try to mask their emotions from their kids. This can be appropriate at times when you don’t want to burden your kids with your feelings.
But kids also need to know that experiencing a wide range of emotions is normal – and healthy. So it’s OK to show them that you have feelings too.
Too often kids think things like, “Oh, my dad never gets scared!” or “My mum doesn’t get nervous about stuff.” But these things aren’t true.
Let them see you feel sad or scared once in a while. Tell them that you’re going to be OK and you’ve got skills to handle these emotions. But make it clear that you experience them sometimes.
7. Not talking about feelings
Most adults don’t talk much about feelings. And when they do, they’re more likely to say, “I had a knot in my stomach,” rather than, “I felt really anxious.”
Kids need opportunities to build their emotional vocabularies. Talking about feeling words gives them the opportunity.
So add feeling words to your everyday conversations. Ask kids how they’re feeling, and talk about your own emotional experiences. This will help them learn to identify and understand their emotions better.