A big challenge we face as human beings is this incorrect assumption that happiness is the only acceptable emotion. It starts when we are little and it is pervasive in our culture. There are 6 core emotions- happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, and surprise. But we judge these human emotions as "good" or "bad" even though they are universal. They are part of our human experience and we have collectively decided that happiness is "good" and all other emotions are "bad" so we spend our lives chasing happiness and wondering what is wrong with us when we feel anything else! Once we embrace the reality that all emotions are NORMAL and part of the great journey called life, then we can begin to examine and shift our unhealthy reactions to any emotion that isn't happiness. And then we can start teaching our keiki that all their feelings are normal too.
SADNESS. What do most well-meaning parents say when their keiki is crying? "Don't cry", or "It's okay" and they immediately try to stop the tears. And why we respond this way is, well.. because who wants to see their keiki suffer? No one, I hope. It's in our nature to protect our keiki and we want them to be happy. But when we try to rescue them from their feelings, we often make things worse in the long run. What message they end up receiving is that it isn't okay to cry and that sadness is a "bad" feeling that must be fixed or avoided all together. What if we could learn to turn towards their sadness instead of away from it? What if we could lean into our own discomfort around tears, heartache, and grief? When we open up towards feelings of sadness and make room for those normal human feelings we teach our keiki that sadness is okay, and we big people can handle their sadness. We can handle their sadness and help them navigate through it without distracting, pacifying, or vilifying it. Instead of treating sadness like something "bad" or wrong, we can practice holding a safe space for our keiki to experience their sadness and offer our support and unconditional love.
And why we respond this way is, well.. because who wants to see their keiki suffer?
ANGER. Did you know that a tantrum is completely NORMAL? It is a healthy, developmentally appropriate response in a toddler. Most adults have a really hard time accepting tantrums as normal. They try to control it by shouting,"Stop that, this instant!", or they might bribe it away saying things like, "No ice cream for you if you keep this up!", or emotionally cut off from their stressed keiki by walking away in frustration or shutting the door in anger. And again, all these responses are normal in a stressful situation that is triggering. Embarrassment, shame, or frustration create a reaction within adults who then try to make the behavior stop at all costs. And it doesn't help when judgements and glares are sent by other adults while a tantrum is happening! Another reason grown ups may have a low tolerance for tantrums is that they cannot tolerate "misbehavior" and they see a tantrum as "bad" behavior that needs to be punished they respond out of anger. What if we could lean in towards our own discomfort around anger? What if we responded to keiki with compassion and understanding instead of annoyance and frustration? When we reframe our perception of what a tantrum is; a healthy, normal reaction in a distressed toddler, then we can greet it with more compassion and acceptance. Instead of clinging to the thought "he/she shouldn't be having a tantrum over something so small!", we could stop "should"ing all over the place and embrace the reality that is in front of us. When we adults can withstand the tumultuous waves of an angry tantrum, we teach our keiki that it is okay to have big feelings (and that we can handle their big feelings without getting angry at them for feeling angry!). We can learn to become a steadfast anchor for our keiki when they are unable to anchor themselves.
When we reframe our perception of what a tantrum is; a healthy, normal reaction in a distressed toddler, then we can greet it with more compassion and acceptance.
Humans do not exist solely to feel pleasure, happiness, and joy. We are programmed to feel a variety of really intense emotions for a variety of reasons. Most of these reasons are completely out of our control! Practice compassion for yourself when you feel a difficult emotion, tune into it, breath into it, make room for it, and try not to judge your emotion as bad or wrong. Let it be just the way it is. Then, with practice, your self compassion will ripple out to become compassion towards all fellow human beings that will invariably experience the very same emotions as you. Remember this with all the keiki you come into contact with, whether they be your own or in your community. It's okay to cry when sad, it's normal to have a tantrum when mad, just as much as it is okay to laugh when happy. We are only human after all.
Tanya Gabriel, MA, LMHC provides affordable counseling and mindfulness instruction. She is passionate about teaching present moment awareness to her community.