Letting your child be unhappy

Skylar was frustrated the other morning. She wanted a waffle, and she wanted her seat cleaned, and she wanted me to push in her chair.

She woke up frustrated and there didn’t seem to be an obvious reason. And the more she whined the more frustrated I began to feel.

I mentioned that her tone wasn’t very kind, that she needed to be patient, and that I was doing the best I could to make breakfast for everyone.

And then she said, “It just needs to come out, it won’t come out…”

So I said, “What needs to come out?” And she said, “My sads…”

And then everything changed. I told her it was OK to let them out and she turned to her dad who was sitting right next to her. She sat on his lap, cried and cried, and he hugged her.

We didn’t talk, we didn’t ask her why, and we didn’t demand to know what was wrong. We just allowed her to cry and I continued to make breakfast for her sisters.

I have no idea what Sky was releasing. Maybe it was a bad dream or an issue from yesterday or last week, but whatever it was, she knew it was time to let it go. And just as important, she needed the space and support to do so.

All of my girls practice this – not all the time, but when things really build up, they can feel it, and they know what it is.

We refer to it as emotional throw up. Not so different from throwing up food, it is the body’s way of releasing what it doesn’t need.

It really doesn’t matter what it’s from and it’s probably not one thing – most likely it’s a number of issues, disappointments or frustrations that built up over time, and the body knows when it’s ready to rid itself of the discomfort.

And all children need a safe space to release, a place where they can cry at the top of their lungs and not be told to calm down, a place where they can shed tears and not be told to hurry up, a place where they can let go and still be validated and loved.

And that space is sacred.

Recognizing what your child is experiencing and allowing them to release emotions is what builds a sense of trust, a sense of safety and a deepening of your relationship.

Children throw up emotions because they are wise and they listen to their bodies, but adults tend to think sadness and anger are unacceptable and weak, so they stuff it down and pretend it doesn’t exist.

And then it turns into road rage, fights with co workers, angry Facebook posts, or even worse, it gets taken out on significant others or children.

When I talk about emotional throw up in my classes or presentations, one or more parents will usually say, “That would never happen in my house…my child would never do what your kids do…they would never know that they ‘need’ to release.”

OK – then teach them.

Let them know about emotions, how they build up and how they need to be released. Make this a normal discussion in your household. Make it OK to emotionally throw up every once in awhile.

This does not give permission to hit or harm others, but create some normalcy around crying, or talking, or any other safe way to let go of feelings.

Children know when they need to release, the key is allowing for it, staying present for it, and offering love and comfort (or maybe they prefer space) when they are letting it go.

Let them know that you feel sad and mad sometimes and demonstrate how you safely deal with these feelings.

This is a key to emotional health. This is a key to your family’s emotional well being. This is a key to having your children accept all parts of themselves, even the parts that aren’t so pretty and we all try to pretend we don’t have.

Like Skylar, who I know would prefer to be happy or at least calm in the morning. But on this morning she needed to throw up, she needed to let go of discomfort and she needed a safe place to do it.

So she sat on her dad’s lap for a full 10 minutes and wailed and screamed while hugging her dad tight.

And when she was done, she rested, and then slowly came back to her chair.

I looked at her and said, “Didn’t that feel good? I’m so glad you got that out.”

She nodded, smiled and said, “Mama, can I please have a waffle now?”

Click here to hear Cathy and Todd talk more about emotional throw up on Zen Parenting Radio.

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