Friday, June 23, 2017

My Toddler, Me, and the Lesson I Learned from Our Emotional Parallels

M wanted to play with his Grandpapa's sunglasses. He loves playing with glasses and trying them on, if trying on glasses means wearing them on your neck instead of your face. But I told M he needed to play with his own sunglasses so Grandpapa's wouldn't get broken. Then, for what felt like five thousand years, M pointed to the sunglasses on the table and whined. And whined. And whined.

M trying on Daddy's glasses.

During all this whining, Grandma was trying to have a conversation with me, but I couldn't focus because whining is a major trigger for me. I wanted to scream. Instead, I tried using my words, like I teach M, and said, "I'm getting frustrated." 

Grandpapa meant well when he told me, "Don't stress out," but that just made me want to cry because, um, I was trying very hard not to stress.

Instead of screaming or crying, I sat there and kept a tight lid on my boiling contents. And then finally, after trying over and over to sympathize with M, I just said, "You can be sad about the glasses, but whining won't do you any good."

As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew they were wrong. My tone was definitely wrong--curt and final. But the words had been wrong too, even if I couldn't pinpoint exactly why. I mean, true enough words, right? His whining wouldn't get him the glasses.

Later that day, as we drove to my husband's work to pick him up, I was completely overcome with tiredness. That kind of tiredness that feels like your spirit is tired. I tried to engage in some worship and prayer, and a memory came to mind of when I went to counseling during my infertility struggles. The counselor did a lot with releasing trapped emotions. I felt like God was reminding me of that to show me I was exhausted from not letting out my emotions earlier. By not releasing that energy, it was trapped in my body, which left me feeling flat. Our emotions do absolutely no good trapped in our bodies. Trapped emotions tank our energy.

And then it dawned on me. My words to M earlier were wrong because I had urged him not to release those emotions. "You can be sad about the glasses, but whining won't do you any good." Except...whining is the most constructive way he knows to express his big feelings right now. With my words and my tone, the message was clear: stop whining; I don't want to hear your big feelings.

If our only message is to stop whining/crying/throwing a fit, the only lesson our kids will learn is to keep a lid on their feelings, trap them inside. That's no good.

But they can't whine for the rest of their lives either. Or once they master language, they shouldn't lash out with hurtful words. Or, ahem, random screaming like I wanted to do. So being passive about whining, hitting, screaming, etc. isn't the way to go either.

If we don't want to teach our kids to suppress their emotions, and we don't want to encourage whining, hitting, or screaming, what can we do?

We need to show our kiddos constructive ways to release their emotions. But before we can do that, we need to accept something important. Emotions are never bad. Not their emotions, or our emotions. Why are we so afraid to show feelings? Probably because we were once (or a hundred times) belittled for them and sent a clear message that no one wants to see our big feelings.

So let's not pass that onto our children. Instead, let's model what it looks like to have big feelings (we all have them) and to release them. That means crying when we're sad, using a punching bag when we feel rage, walking it out when we're angry or nervous, journaling, drawing, painting, cleaning, doing yoga, etc. Whatever it is, acknowledge and name the emotion in front of the kids and then show the release. Then when they have big feelings, we can help them do the same. Learning to acknowledge and release those feelings when they're young will help them grow into emotionally intelligent and healthy adults.

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In the comments, please share ideas on how to release emotions! What's your favorite way to release? I'm learning right alongside M, so I'll take all the tips I can get.

Related posts:

This is What Gentle Parenting Shows My Child

Why I Refuse to Call My Son Shy


  1. Such an insightful post! I'm not great when it comes to releasing my emotions. I tend to bottle them up until I want to explode.

  2. What a good reminder to see those annoying behaviors as opportunities to teach healthy emotional processing.

  3. I'm glad I've read this article. I ddon't have a toddler, I mean not yet, but I've been anticipating having a borderline chaotic home a few years from now when my baby turns into a toddler. I didn't know discouraging them to stop whining or expressing their emotions can cause more harm than good to their behavior.

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I hope it helps when you reach the toddler stage. :)

  4. I began reading about gentle parenting and it's really helpful with controlling emotions and understanding emotions.

  5. A lot of thought went into this post. Thank you for putting a new spin on it.

  6. You are so right in that we are sometimes giving the wrong message. But, my goodness, whining is such a trigger for me too! I can't stand it!

    1. It's sooooo hard to respond the right way when whining is a trigger. I'm sure I'll mess up a lot, but every day is full of opportunities to learn and try again.