By Angela Dube, LMFT
“Turn that frown upside down.”
“Don’t worry, be happy.”
“Boys don’t cry.”
“Don’t be a baby.”
Our society desperately wants us all to feel happy. It wants us to be happy, strong, brave, and intelligent. Sounds good, right? I think we would all like to be those things, and we would like our children to be those things, too. Our society educates us that we need to ignore our more vulnerable feelings like sadness, fear, and anger, and instead focus on the happier side of things.
As parents we all want our children to be happy, and it can be quite upsetting if they’re not. Some of us blame ourselves for not raising a happier child and some of us worry that there is something wrong with our child. Some of us feel annoyed by our child’s feelings and ignore them or punish them. And I am no exception to this; when my toddler whines I often find myself annoyed and I ignore him in hopes that he will stop.
However, no one feels happy, strong, brave, and intelligent all the time. We have other, more vulnerable, more uncomfortable feelings, too. And these feelings are important. When we listen to them we can address underlying needs that we are missing and move on. They allow us to problem solve and advocate for ourselves. Without paying attention to our feelings, we can go through life thinking that what we think and feel are not important and that there is something wrong with us for not feeling happy.
What happens when we give ourselves and our children permission to have and express more difficult feelings? When we truly listen to our feelings? More empathy, more positive and meaningful relationships with others, better communication within families, higher levels of success in school, less conflict, fewer tantrums and other problematic behavior, just to name a few. When we give our children permission to have and express their feelings they are better able to handle difficult situations, talk to their parents about their conflicts, and make good choices. Which to me, sounds like a happier child.
So how can we move past this deep desire for everyone to be happy? I propose a new goal. Rather than the goal of raising happy children, I propose a goal of having children who accept, understand, express, and cope with all feelings. Let’s build resilient children.