your feelings are real, but they can be liars.

This weekend, we headed over to Rock Bridge State Park for a hike with friends.  The water was lower this time than the last time we went, and it was possible to actually walk underneath the Rock Bridge.  Penelope, who tends to be our most timid kiddo, refused to go underneath because she was afraid it would collapse on her.  So, after a failed attempt to convince her to try it, we walked back over to the trail to wait for everyone else to get done exploring.

Once we were back on the trail, though, we had a good opportunity to talk about how, 'our feelings are real, but they can be liars.'  Her fear was a very real feeling, and while it is a very good thing to acknowledge how we feel, her fear was telling her something would happen that, realistically speaking, was not going to happen.  She was trusting her fear more than she was trusting reason and truth, and she was allowing that to dictate her behavior.  People always act in response to who or what they trust most.

This photo is from a different trip, since we forgot the camera this weekend.

There is a growing trend of parenting 'experts' essentially telling us that our kids' feelings are the most true things about them.  Our kids are no more than a sum of their emotions, and our job as parents is to identify and validate every single thing they might be feeling at a given moment, or we risk smothering their truest selves.

I absolutely believe that it is important to show compassion without condescension for our children and their 'big feelings.'  Feelings are valid.  They're real.  And they can be so, so good.  But it is so very important to teach our kids how to discern whether their feelings are telling them true things, or lies, by comparing what our emotions are telling us with what is objectively true.  The job of our feelings is to follow what's true - such as when we get angry about injustice, or respond in joy and affection when we know we're loved - rather than dictate what we believe to be true.  They were not made to be the sole force driving our behavior if we haven't first asked ourselves if they're telling us the truth.

And our children are strong.  They are insightful.  From as early as toddlerhood, children are absolutely capable of rising above false, lying emotions to choose 'right' and 'true.'  I often tell even our youngest kiddos, "It is okay to feel angry [or fill-in-the-blank], but your anger is not an excuse to act like that."  It's as simple as that at the start, and am I often amazed at how quickly a toddler can respond to reason like this, and their emotions often follow suit.  

Penelope and I stood on that trail and talked for a little bit - "Fear is telling you a story, babe.  It is lying to you, and telling you things that aren't true.  You're feeling scared, and I can understand that.  But I need you to take a breath and open your eyes to what is true: your brothers and sister and Daddy are all under that bridge, having a wonderful time - the reality is that the bridge is not collapsing.  And as your mommy, I would never encourage you to do something that would put you at unnecessary risk.  Will you trust me more than your fear?"

And she trusted me.  She was able to overcome her feeling of fear by hearing truth, and she saw that she is capable of telling her feelings that they aren't in charge of her decisions when they're lying to her.  And she had a blast under that bridge.  And when we came to the next cave, she didn't even hesitate to check it out, because she told her feelings who is boss, and her feelings responded beautifully to truth.  And I was so very, very proud of her.


Danielle Tiarks said...

That is awesome, Paige! As I'm growing in motherhood, I love catching glimpses of these real and awesome teaching moments other moms have with their kiddos. I really appreciate you sharing!! <3

todd said...

this is awesome. no wasted words. well spoken. undeniably true.

facts don't care about your feelings, but your feelings must care about the facts.

Amanda Cushman said...

That's an amazing approach. You taught me a great lesson today. Thank you!