When he is angry or frustrated, I help him find safe ways to express himself, like punching the couch instead of hitting himself in the head (oh, toddlers!). Then I guide him to re-center himself by taking deep breaths, for example.
When my son is scared, I figure out what frightened him and then work to either keep him safe from it in the future or show him that it won't hurt him so he won't be afraid of it again.
When my son is happy, I smile and allow him time to enjoy his joy.
When my son has feelings, I want to encourage him to experience them. I want him to know that emotions are not to be feared, that they don't have to overwhelm an experience, and that he is capable of recovering from even the strongest, darkest feelings. I want him to have the skills and internal resources to express his emotions in healthy ways, without bottling, lashing out, shame, guilt, or resentment. I want him to know that I will love him and be there for him no matter what he feels.
Why, oh why, then, is it so hard to do the same for myself? I'm getting better at it, but I still have a ways to go before I am as consistently gentle with myself as I am with my son.
It seems that as parents -- and especially mothers -- we become so focused on allowing our children emotional expression, yet we deny ourselves the same unconditional love. We are still unable to truly experience our feelings. We over-eat to stuff them. We exercise to run away from them. We busy ourselves with jobs or activities to avoid quiet moments for the soul. We clean the house instead of our hearts. We focus on caring for others instead of ourselves.
This system of parenting won't work. It's too hard to support someone else through intense emotions when you've got unresolved feelings of your own in the way. Eventually, there will be a collapse or a blowout. In fact, I'm pretty sure emotional suppression is what gets in the way of practicing unconditional, mindful parenting each and every moment.
That's certainly the case for myself, anyway. It's when I literally forget myself that I run into the biggest parenting hurdles. Therefore, I have resolved to use the same (or similar) phrases and actions on myself that I use with my son when I notice strong feelings well up inside of me. I'm going to focus on loving myself unconditionally through my feelings, too. This make sense when I consider that my son will learn the most about emotional freedom and expression from the way I handle my own. That is, my feelings aren't just OK, they're essential for good parenting.
Are you better at handling your child's emotions than your own? Have you found a way to handle both? Leave a note...I'd love to hear from you!