Children’s Feelings


By: Deborah Critzer

I went on an errand one afternoon, leaving my 11 year old daughter home alone. Twenty minutes later, I returned to find my child sobbing hysterically on the couch. "What happened, whatís the matter?" I frantically asked her. She couldnít answer, just continued to sob. I panicked. "Did someone hurt you?" She shook her head no. "Did you hurt yourself?" Again, no. Whew! "Briana! What happened?"

Between sobs, I heard, "Ha-ha-mster." Uh oh. We have a neighbor cat that the kids love to play with. I ran to the room, afraid to look. I peeked in the cage, little milkshake looked up, teeth barred, but alive! "Sheís OK!" I yelled, Briana came in the room, still crying, she couldnít believe it, she said it was laying with itís leg hanging out of the cage and she was sure that cat had hurt it. She said, "I got so mad at the cat, I picked her up and tossed her outside", (pretty violent for my normally loving daughter).

She still looked upset. I said, "Did you feel guilty that if the hamster was dead, it would have been your fault for letting the cat in?" Bingo! That was it. She nodded and began to sob again, this time I held her in my arms and let her cry. When she began to calm down, we were able to talk about what had happened and what she would do differently from then on. She was grateful, relieved and had learned a very important lesson about being responsible for keeping the bedroom door shut if she let the cat in.

A childís feeling of guilt is an opportunity for the child to learn about responsibility and the consequences of his or her actions. Parental response to guilt can have a tremendous impact on the development (or lack) of a childís conscience, the ability to learn right from wrong, and their level of social interest and responsibility. Children who are allowed to feel their feelings, and helped by their parents to identify their feelings and learn from them, are learning the skills to deal with life in a responsible way. Feelings in children that are suppressed, express themselves in a wide variety of misbehaviors. Some of the ways which we as parents unknowingly stop feelings in children are:

(This is only a partial list of feeling stoppers, for more information please see pages 173-175 of the Redirecting Childrenís Behavior Book)

While our intention is to teach our child a lesson in the above examples, our results are often much different. The child focuses on how unfair we are, or how bad they are, rather than learning from their mistake. If we want our child to learn , it is critical that we address the feelings first and then work with them on dealing with the situation. Some ways to encourage feelings are:

Once you have acknowledged the childís feeling, you will see visible relief in the child and will feel very close in your relationship. This is a wonderful window of opportunity for you to share in communication with your child, a time of feeling close and connected with your child. It is these times when you will feel you and your child are really listening to each other and hearing each other. When you build closeness in your relationship this way, you will find that you have much greater influence in your childís thoughts and decisions, they will begin to ask you what you think!

Just to let you know, after we talked about the hamster incident, Briana saw that cat and went outside to apologize.

Deborah Critzer has been teaching parenting classes for 5 years in Ventura County, California. She is the mother of 3 children, Briana, 11, Michelle, 7 and Michael, 5.

Article provided by: Positive Parenting

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