(This is the second part of the Raising a Brave Girl? Blog series. Check out the Intro: Are You Brave Enough To Raise a Brave Girl? and Part 1: Let her Fear.)
In Part 1, I described why your daughter needs to connect to both, positive and negative feelings. Every positive feeling needs its opposite. The more familiar she is with one, the better handle she will have over the other. This is how people who experienced terrible tragedies are able to also find peace of mind, even happiness.
As a parent, you hope your daughter won’t go through pain and sorrow. You want to protect her and keep her safe. Inevitably, though, she will experience heartache. At some point in life, she will be hit with grief and sadness. She will witness injustice and become angry, maybe infuriated. She will be frustrated with her partner. And, at times she will experience guilt, even shame.
Don’t those thoughts make you want to hold your daughter tight, promising to always be there for her? But there is something you can do that will be even more helpful. You can prepare her for these times.
When she handles negative feelings without repressing or avoiding them, she learns from what these feelings try to teach her. And most importantly, since you want her to be happy, she can then experience her positive feelings in a much more powerful way.
Here are three steps to helping your daughter manage challenging feelings:
Step 1: Recognize her feelings
Sharing our feelings makes us feel better. But there’s more! Research shows that even just recognizing a feeling and labeling it mentally reduces that negative feeling. How do you teach this? It’s very simple. When you notice she is having a feeling, you just tell her! It sounds kind of weird, I know. If she is younger (preschool age), you say something like, “you are feeling sad that your friend had to leave.” With an older child, you just recognize her feeling by naturally bringing it into the conversation, for example, “I know you are angry at him. You get frustrated every time you see him.”
Why do parents not do this? First, because we are in problem-solving mode. We jump to suggestions on how to eliminate the negative feelings. We offer a better perspective that will make her feel better. We fear that entertaining the negative feelings will increase them. We don’t want to give these feelings more space!
But speaking out what someone else is experiencing just sheds light on it. And I should warn you, the feeling may indeed become a little more intense before it subsides. Just stay with it, be brave!
This is not a magic trick, and it won’t make the negative feeling disappear instantaneously. Quite the opposite. We want her to engage that feeling. As long as she ignores how she feels, her feelings have power over her. But when she accepts her feelings, she can address them.
Step 2: Connect with her feelings
Our minds are wired for connection with others. When our feelings are misunderstood, we feel a tear in our relationships. Misunderstood feelings can lead us to isolate from others, adding loneliness or shame to the mix. So when your daughter experiences an intense feeling, you can connect with her by showing understanding.
You may not agree with how she feels, but you can accept that this is how she feels. When you recognize her feelings, you are already halfway there. Then, you add a statement of connection, like, “I know that feeling,” or “I know this is so hard for you.” Any honest statement that validates her will work.
If you can relate to her, tell her. Just make sure you don’t follow it up with a but. Buts invalidate, as in “I know this is hard for you, but you should have…” Just save that part for later – there will be time.
Step 3: Normalize her feelings
Our culture believes the myth that we are not supposed to experience negative feelings. Everybody just wants to be happy… and only happy! But as long as you are alive, you will have positive and negative experiences.
What you want to do at this point is allow her to know her feelings are normal, considering her circumstances. The most general but helpful thing to say could be, “It makes sense that you feel that way.
When we think that we shouldn’t feel a certain way, we fight that feeling. And feelings can’t be fought away. Instead, teach your daughter to listen to her feelings. What are they trying to tell her? Why are they there? Nervous the day before a test? Maybe her feelings are energizing her to study. Sad about a loss? Maybe she needs to reach out to someone. Just remember that all feelings have a purpose, and all feelings are necessary – not only for survival but for personal growth!
Let her know it’s OK that she feels the way she feels.
Our culture tells us that we are supposed to control our feelings at all times. Just think positive! But a Brave Girl gives her feelings the space they need. She notices her feelings and listens to them. Her feelings tell her what they need of her. They intuitively guide her. Fear helps her be cautious. Nerves and anxiety help her be prepared. Anger moves her to create change. Disgust keeps her safe and helps her follow social norms. Sadness moves her closer to loved ones.
Every girl is born with these tools to deal with life’s toughest challenges. So if she already possesses the tools… why not use them?
Continue with Part 3 of this blog series: Raising a Brave Girl? Let her save herself. (available 8/26/17)
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