How do I help my child move through her emotions without dismissing them?
January 17, 2022
[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 14 of the Art of Raising Humans podcast. I’m Kyle Wester.
[Sara]: And I’m Sara.
[Kyle]: And today we wanted to hit up on a topic, that one of our listeners reached out to us and asked us a specific question, about how to handle a situation and so, in response to that question, which I’d love for any listeners who have questions, any things you're like “man, how do we handle this?” Or “what's your thoughts on that?”, Sara and I would love to talk about it and just share how we would deal with it with our own kids or how we've dealt with it in the past and helping parents deal with it, but this particular question, I’m going to read this from one of our listeners and so, this listener said “last night our eldest child was-- Our oldest child was being annoying and his younger sister got angry and upset” and this listener said this is common. I heard myself telling her and this is in quotes “who is in charge of your feelings?”. “How do I help her move through the hurt, but help her not allow others to dictate her feelings? Can you do a podcast on that?”.
[Kyle]: Well, of course, we can, because we're doing that now. “But I think I’m missing a piece and dismissing her feelings, but I know that I’ve read something related to «you can only control your actions and your emotions». I’d love some guidance and your thoughts for a child that takes so much to heart”. So, immediately I thought that was a fantastic question because, I think that's something Sara, you and I have had to work through like, you have this idea of “yeah, it is true”, that something we would teach, something we value is and we tell our kids is “no one controls my feelings, they're mine and no one controls my actions. I choose what I do. So, I choose how I feel, I choose what I do with those feelings” and it's important for a kid to have that power, to know they have that, because otherwise they get into a lot of blaming and all that kind of stuff.
[Sara]: I think, I don't know how many times I’ve heard it, you just kind of grow up or I think a lot of people grow up with the idea, that somebody does something and it causes me to feel a certain way.
[Kyle]: Makes you feel that way.
[Sara]: And a lot of times, you might even go “how could I feel any other way? Of course, they caused me to feel that way”. Angry, sad, whatever it might be, but-- So, it kind of blew my mind when I first realized “oh, that doesn't-- that isn't actually a fact”.
[Sara]: People can do something and if you had 15 people and somebody did one thing, they could actually all feel differently about that one thing. So, there may be sure, there may be certain things that this would be a very common feeling to have after that.
[Kyle]: In that moment, yeah.
[Sara]: But they're not actually inside your brain, causing you to feel something and what's exciting about that is, that we actually can own our feeling “I’m not a puppet with someone running the strings and telling me how I’m gonna feel and I think that's very encouraging because that means I can do something about it. If someone else is controlling me, then I’m just going to feel that”.
[Sara]: But now that we're handing it back and saying “no, I can actually-- I can actually decide how I’m going to feel, what I’m going to do”.
[Sara]: So, I just want to say that, because what she said I think it's really for our audience.
[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, no, I think it's a really important thing to note. I think the one-- I always feel that that connects to the most is traffic. So, I know you don't get particularly mad at traffic, but I can get mad sometimes when I’m driving and get upset and I used to think traffic made me mad and then, when I met somebody who was from Los Angeles and drove in much worse traffic than I’ve ever been here in Tulsa and they were like “oh, you're--” They were telling me “Tulsa traffic's a breeze like, I’m actually like, happy when I get in Tulsa traffic, because it's so quick”. I mean, he's like “man, you can get from here to there in 20-25 minutes. Sometimes when I was in traffic, it was for two hours”. I’m like “what!?”, it was mind-blowing to me, but my frame of reference was small in regards to traffic and his frame of reference was just different and so, he had a different frame of reference and so, that then, you'd find a lot of guys particularly would come in and talk about getting mad during traffic.
[Kyle]: And I remember one guy was really funny, that he said he liked traffic because he liked to listen to heavy metal music and his wife and kids didn't, so when he was driving from work to home, he'd listen like thrash heavy metal and he'd have drumsticks and he'd be drumming and so, to him, he liked the time between there to there and was actually kind of annoyed when traffic wasn't so big [Laughter] So, it just showed me like, “wait, there's a lot of different ways to see traffic, traffic doesn't make me feel something, I choose to feel something about traffic. So, if I chose to feel that, then I could choose to feel something else”, right?
[Sara]: Again, it goes back to the idea that we have an event happen and then thoughts and feelings and even physiological responses happen from that event, but those are not things that have to happen, a lot of those are things that we can change and we can decide, you know, our thoughts, feelings and responses to a single event.
[Kyle]: Yeah. So, I love that being a basis a foundation. So, in regards to what the listener commented, it's great that that is true. “Who's in charge of your feelings?”, I definitely would want my kids to know that they are in charge of their feelings, okay? But it seemed like, what this listener was pointing at or-- There's something missing there, right? And so, the thing I felt like was missing, was empathy, okay?
[Kyle]: And then, how could empathy be used in that moment and why would it be important? What is empathy?
[Sara]: So, I think, right? Is the listener saying “all right, I get that, I believe that, so then I’m conveying that to my children” and I love that, I mean, I think at a-- From the very beginning we can say “oh, this happened and you felt that way”.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, instead of “how did that make you feel?” Just even asking a different question. “How did you feel about that?”
[Sara]: And don't assume. If somebody takes a toy from your child, you ask them “how did it feel? Did you like it?” and so, that starts from the very beginning of “oh, an event happened, how did you feel about it?”
[Sara]: And so, you use that language from the very, very beginning.
[Kyle]: To kind of, raise their awareness of “I did feel something about it. I don't have to feel how you think I should feel, this is how I felt about it”.
[Sara]: Yeah, instead of “oh, you're--”, you know. Yeah. So, “you're mad or you're going to be mad because so and so did this” and you know, if their blocks fell down or a toy got broke or their cookie was the wrong cookie, you know? From a very, very young age, those are some real young examples and then, all the way obviously through teenage years where really big things start to happen, that can-- You know, you break up with someone.
[Sara]: Again, “how do you feel about that?”
[Sara]: Someone else could be like “oh shoot!”, relief or devastation or just “oh, you know, whatever, I don't care”.
[Sara]: So, just that curiosity and building in that our feelings come and go and change and we can feel lots of different ways about the same stuff. So, we start with that language, seems like she's already there.
[Sara]: That's going to take time, right? So, even though you've said it five-- You know, 50 times to your child, it's sometimes still hard to believe and you still sort of feel like “no, no, this thing made me feel this way”.
[Kyle]: Well, and Becky Bailey would say “it's got to be a thousand times in context”, you know? That we've got to model it, got to say it, you know, we really have to believe it ourselves that “no one makes me feel anything” or “I’m in charge of my own feelings” and being curious about how they feel about it, yeah.
[Sara]: So, just go ahead and either keep a list or just realize “wow, I guess I haven't hit a thousand yet”, because it's still not there for them and that's okay.
[Sara]: You know, just keep building it, keep building it, keep building it for them. And then I think, wait, let's come back around to what you were saying about empathy.
[Kyle]: Sure, yeah, yeah. So, what I would say, first of all, when I saw that question as we're going to empathy is, that saying “who's in charge of your feelings?”, that actually might be an appropriate thing to say in that moment, but I’m gonna look at the reaction the kid has to me saying that. If the kid goes “oh, yeah, you're right. Yeah, that's true, I don't need to be annoyed by my brother doing that”, great! Then, that maybe was the helpful thing to say, but if the kid pulls back and it's like feels like “you don't get it, like, you're not listening to me, you--”. Like, the idea the listener said, it seemed like maybe she was dismissing her feelings. I’d want to see-- I think the kid will give me that feedback, the kid will either pull away from me or they'll lean in closer and be like “oh, thank you for helping me with this”, but if they pull away, I don't think they felt heard, I think they did feel dismissed.
[Kyle]: And a lot of times that is what we are doing, sometimes we're staying kind of in our like, logical reasoning part of our brain and we're not really connecting with the feeling part that the kid's in and so, I feel like a lot of teenagers will feel that too, you know? Like, maybe the parent is in that moment saying a truth, but the kid's like “oh, yeah, they don't really want to hear my feelings, they're basically saying «stop feeling that way»”. Yeah.
[Sara]: And realize how long they need to sit in that, may be different than what you would do.
[Sara]: So, somebody could do something and you're like “ugh, I’m annoyed” and in five minutes you're over it, but then I think we've all had those times where we were really upset and it's 45 minutes, it's two hours, it might be the next day.
[Kyle]: I’ve been there, I’ve been there, yeah.
[Sara]: Before you're thinking “okay, all right, all right, let me just--” You know, where you've sort of come down off of that feeling. So, our children are the same way, we don't know the scale of the emotion and how long it's going to take them to sort of, you know, breathe through that, let that go, move into a different place.
[Sara]: And, so we empathize and we think “okay, I empathized.” You should be able to move through that now and then, they don't. And so, that's the feedback you're getting, “okay, you're not there yet” and sometimes as a parent, it's hard to be that patient.
[Sara]: Sometimes I want to say “okay, I mean, I really empathize, can we just move on now?” and they're not ready.
[Kyle]: Tell me what is empathy when you're saying that. So, how do I know I’m doing it when I’m empathizing? Like, what does that look like? You're really good at it. I’ve tried to get better at it, but you're more of a natural, so with empathy, how do you know you're-- We're telling a parent “Hey, I think you should show them empathy first and see if that helps the kids shift”, what would that look like?
[Sara]: Well, empathy is sort of, you know, stepping into someone else's shoes. So, and I think it goes back to what you said earlier about being real logical. I think there are times we go “oh, you're sad”.
[Sara]: And that feels different--
[Kyle]: That’s right, yes! [Laughter]
[Sara]: When you step in someone's shoes, it's not like you're taking-- I don't mean to take on their problems, but think back to a time where you have felt this depth of sadness and that comes across different when you are able to convey to them. “I understand, I see what you're feeling, your feeling” and you say it and they might correct to you.
[Kyle]: Yeah. I love it when Dr. Gottman says “empathy is attunement”, it's when I’m attuning to the kid and I think about how many times I’ve heard a song do that. Where I’m feeling something, I’m feeling something deep, I feel like nobody gets it, nobody understands it and then a song comes on.
[Kyle]: And I think this person who I’ve never met [Laughter] Who doesn't know me at all, wrote the song for me and it seems like that is attunement and when I have done it well with our kids or with other kids that I’m helping at the private practice, I feel they're feeling. It's not that I take it on as mine, but I feel it and immediately like, it opens up a file in my brain to where I go “wow, I remember that was really hard when I felt that” or “oh man, when that happened to me, that was a big deal”, you know? When I’m not doing that, there's a little voice in my head that says like “how long is this gonna take?”
[Kyle]: “When are we going to get through this?”. Like “this again? Are you still upset about this?”.
[Kyle]: You know, and then-- And so, I’ll try to be empathetic and maybe when I’m in that mindset, maybe I’ll be patient for about five to ten minutes and then I’ll be like “okay, I’m done. I’m out, I’m tapping out, I can't keep doing this” [Laughter] and I never really, if I’m honest with myself, never really attuned with what the kid was going through. I never gave myself-- I never moved myself into their shoes and tried to feel what they're feeling, yeah.
[Sara]: And just be with them. Just empathize and be with them.
[Kyle]: And not setting the goal, even though I do want it to shift– The goal isn't for it to change.
[Sara]: Well, and the funny thing is, when we actually step into that with them and we just sit with them, I think of Brene Brown's video on YouTube of climbing down the ladder and I don't know, maybe we can connect it below--
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, we'll put it in the notes of the Brene Brown's--
[Sara]: Yeah, it's a really great little short video representing empathy and you're just with the person in their emotions. So, if you’re just with your child there, they feel that and that's when it actually helps them when they're ready to move through it, when you join them and then, they're able to move through it. It's funny how you can almost see that body, you know, where you just-- Your child just goes [Relief breath]
[Sara]: There's just this--
[Kyle]: This release
[Sara]: Yeah, and then it gives them almost the freedom to “okay, it's there, we can-- it can--” Because emotions won't stay forever.
[Sara]: And you can let them know is not gonna be here, it will shift and move and--
[Kyle]: As you're saying that, I’m thinking about-- Even as an adult, how many times I felt that, you know? There's been times when people have tried to empathize and I thought “nah” [Laughter] “They don't really get it”.
[Kyle]: But then other times, I’m thinking about-- I remember-- This is a funny example I tell a lot of clients is, I watched a movie one time and it was some kind of military movie and this dad was caught overseas and he wanted to come home and, in the movie-- I didn't cry during the movie, I was watching, I was with a bunch of other guys and we were all watching this movie, it's a good movie. We came out and after we're talking about the movie, having a-- No tears were shed, I didn't even think I was sad about the movie, but then I called you up and you said “how was the movie?” and as I started telling you about the movie, you were so empathetic like “I’m almost wanting to tear up now, you're so empathetic”, I just started like, weeping on the phone about this movie and about like, how it impacted me and I didn't even know it had done that, until you were empathizing and I thought to myself “this must be what she does to the kids! This is why the kids are so much quicker to cry with her than they are with me”.
[Kyle]: Because I just felt like you really cared like, I really felt like you really wanted to know about the movie that impacted me [Laughter] and I thought, it almost like, opened up a door to like, be safe with those feelings because I was with you and I wasn't-- I didn't feel like I was safe with those feelings with the guys that I was with [Laughter] To just have that-- I mean, I’m sure they would have been okay with it, but it was just like, you just somehow the way you said it, the way you were already so present with me, you know, you weren't just saying “how was the movie?”, you know? You were like really interested and I began to tell you and then, the way you just like, were attuned with the feeling, I thought I wasn't alone in the feeling, so then I now could express the feeling because you were with me in it.
[Sara]: And then, it actually can be released. You actually can--
[Kyle]: I didn't come home and just keep crying about the movie [Laughter]
[Sara]: Is not just stored in there forever and when we meet our child there, they can be super annoyed or whatever it is and when you connect with them on it, then they can go “oh, okay”. You know, that time where you're so mad about a co-worker or something, someone comes in and you tell them about and they're like “oh, that's so annoying!”. They meet you with that and then, all of a sudden, you're like “yeah, it really is” and then you just sort of, move on.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, those kinds of situations are frustrating, yeah, you kind of go--
[Sara]: Yeah, it sort of lets you just go “okay” and you can--
[Sara]: So, we just doing that with our kids.
[Kyle]: Yes. So, I think in answering the listeners question, I think I love setting the foundation of “I’m in charge of my feelings, you're in charge of your feelings” that's fantastic and sometimes, that may be the whole intervention that's needed in that moment, but if I say that and it doesn't seem to be resonating with my kid, it doesn't even mean that the kid doesn't believe it. The kid may still believe it, but I’m wanting to just move right into empathy to say “I’m with you in this” and we can always follow up later with that, about that truth and you know, touch base and see if the kid-- The kid may say “I believe all that”, but in that moment, it didn't feel like that was true. In that moment and I hear this a lot from kids, especially like, teenagers and then talking about littler kids like, “oh, the kid is so annoying” and “he makes me so mad” and they really don't believe they have the power to shift out of that, they feel like that's just how it has to be. We have to be annoyed with each other, we have to not get along and I try to like, do you think there's other houses where that doesn't happen? Where kids-- And occasionally, I do know a family here or there where the kids do like each other and you're like “okay. Well, look, that's another possible option”, you know? And once you can expand that, help that growth mindset thing to happen, then they can start to be more open to it, but a lot of kids they may believe that they're in charge of their feelings, but in that moment, it just seems like that's not true, you know?
[Sara]: Well, I think you kind of were leading into the next step, where once you meet empathy, really empathize and meet that feeling, then it actually releases you to then do something. “Now, what does she want to do about her brother?” Or “what does that teenager--?”, you know? Then you can move into “okay, there's this--”
[Kyle]: The coaching that could happen, yeah.
[Sara]: Yeah, “this keeps happening” and “it's really annoying” and so, now “what can we do about it?” So, then you have tools to hopefully use next time, so maybe we don't keep this cycle going and going and going and going.
[Kyle]: You know what I’m thinking of? That that's so-- I’m almost thinking like, it's basically like a need. So, that the kid has a need and even though I have something to offer, maybe that doesn't meet the need. So, really the empathy, you know, in Becky Bailey's words she'd say “empathy helps organize the brain”. So, I’m going to offer the empathy to help organize the brain, so then we can actually then-- Once we've met that need, then we can move on to doing something about it, you know? Almost like a kid who's really hungry and you could tell the kid “Well, you know how to cook a meal” like, the kid's just really hungry and at that moment-- “I just want something!”. So, you give the kid a little snack and then the kid's like “oh, okay, okay. So, what are we having for dinner?”, you know, “let's think about how to cook that” and it'd be harder to cook the dinner if you're just like “starving, starving, starving”, you just want something real quick to meet the need and then to be able to move into doing something about it, you know?
[Kyle]: So, I’d love this that a listener gave us an opportunity, right? To talk about this and of course, Sara and I have so many topics that we want to discuss, but we also want listeners to be able to have interaction with us by throwing out ideas. You can email us your questions or comments or thoughts that you have on other podcast ideas you love us to do. You can do it at email@example.com. You can reach us on that through the website, you can also, you know, comment on the podcast and we'd love for you to leave a review. You know, five-star reviews are fantastic, so we prefer those, but we'd love you to do that, to get us more visible. So, we want to thank you for the time that you have just spending with us and I would love you to view our website at parentinglegacy.com, to see all the different stuff that we offer from blogs, to trainings, to all that kind of speaking opportunities and all that. So, I appreciate your time, I hope your new year is going really well and just want to say good night.
[Sara]: Thanks for joining us.