There isn’t a single piece of research that shows that rejecting, ignoring, dismissing, invalidating, resisting, ridiculing, punishing or attempting to shut down children’s emotions is good for them or for the parent-child relationship. There is, however, decades of research showing just the opposite: that when we accept our children’s feelings and help them organize their emotions by offering our presence, connection, nurturance, understanding, and guidance, they develop into more secure, confident, and socially and academically competent adults who tend to be able to better regulate their emotions and respond with sensitivity to others’ emotions.
For both kids and adults, having our emotions rejected or dismissed usually leads to the amplification of the intensity of emotion. In kids, “meltdowns” and “tantrums” (emotional dysregulation, stress, and overwhelm) are likely to be more intense and occur for longer when their emotions are rejected rather than accepted. Accepting your child’s emotion and responding with sensitivity, with presence, empathy, and nurturance, can help to soothe and contain your child’s emotion, and help them organize their emotional experience; this process is called ‘coregulation’ and is the foundation required for children to gradually learn to regulate their own emotions.
‘Oh, but what about when they are engaging in undesirable behavior?’, I hear you say. ‘Should I set limits when they are expressing their emotion in bad behaviors?’ Children can’t effectively or consistently regulate their behavior before they have learnt to effectively regulate their emotion…and let’s be real here, many adults haven’t mastered this skill. Your child is much more likely to be able to regulate their behavior (engage in healthy, adaptive behavior) when they can effectively regulate their emotions, and, for them to be able to regulate their emotions, they need to have their emotions accepted and supported by their caregivers— on this the research is clear.
Coach Benjamin Mizrahi. Educator. Learning Specialist. Family Coach. Father. Husband.
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