Me: “Hey buddy, just wanted to say we’re proud of you. You were really brave last night.”
Son: “Because I stopped crying?”
Me: “No, not because you stopped crying. Because you were willing to feel your feelings.”
This scene happened six months ago, the day after we told our children we were moving. As with many kids when they move, they had some big feelings. There was anger, tears, a lot of questions, more anger, and more tears. Of course, we did not want them to hurt. And, as parents, we did not want to watch them hurt. But, we knew it would hurt them more to shut them down. So, hard as it was, we encouraged them to feel. And, feel they did.
I admit, it kind of bummed me out the next morning when my son repeated the age-old lie that brave = not crying. But, it also isn’t surprising. Teaching kids that feeling is brave is an ongoing project because it is the opposite message from what they often hear or absorb. So, we remind them, again and again. It’s just too important. Becoming emotionally healthy “feelers” benefits kids (and their later adult selves) in the most incredible ways.
How Engaging with Emotions Benefits Kids
Emotional Intelligence: Children who are encouraged to engage with and process their feelings get the chance to safely experience what different emotions feel like. Just like someone who has listened to a lot of music learns to pick out the difference between a violin and a guitar, a child who has permission to get to know their feelings will learn how to pick out embarrassed, lonely, or vulnerable from just “sad.” Knowing these nuances helps them to identify the pain and move through it more smoothly. Feelings wheels are a great place to start (link).
Emotional Permission: Children who are encouraged to feel their feelings tend to create safe space for others to do the same. It’s a powerful thing for one kid to give permission to another child to feel, especially if they don’t get that permission elsewhere. When we speak emotional freedom to our kiddos, it helps give them the language to benefit the other children they are around.
Emotional Endurance: It’s no fun to see our kids hurt. However, if we protect them from every pain, they don’t learn how to manage them. Emotional pain is a reality of living. So, when we give them permission to feel and move through their pain, they learn that there is relief eventually on the other side. Letting them gain this knowledge as children gives them good emotional “endurance” muscles for those tougher things that come with adolescent and adult life.
Emotional Confidence: Despite my son’s repetition of “the brave lie” the next day, he did a beautiful job of moving through his feelings the night before. It is the most incredible thing to watch humans (my kid, clients, friends, myself) encounter emotional pain, bravely engage, hurt like a son-of-a-gun, but then, usually, rise. I’ve had the incredible privilege to watch time and time again as people encounter anything from a scraped knee to unimaginable tragedy—they eventually come through. They rise in hope, they begin to envision the future, and they ask questions about what will be. And, every time this happens, there is an emotional confidence layer instilled that we can get through life’s difficulties, gain knowledge, and find solutions that allow us to move forward.
So, the next time our kiddos run up against a painful time, we can encourage them to “be brave.” But, this time, our definition won’t only be what the world says is brave. Instead, it will be what also helps them feel, cope, and rise on the other side. Here’s to raising a generation of brave, emotionally healthy humans.