Tales of Parenting : Hitting vs Talking Feelings

Every day I am subjected to multiple stories that friends relatives or strangers tell me about their children. 

Generally, it is in regards to their children’s antics or discipline issues that they think are funny, had a hard time with, or just want someone to listen to and be supportive. Sometimes they are asking for my help but over the years I learned that generally, they are not telling me because they think they handled it wrong or because they need my help, they are telling me because they are sharing. We all need, like to, and want to share our stories. 

However with all the stories, I listen to with all my experience, unfortunately, all I see is how everyone is trying and trying so hard to raise their kids the best way possible. 

But despite how hard everyone is trying unfortunately we are all making so many mistakes daily ( including myself) in understanding how our kids feel and sadly most people are unaware of these mistakes.
People keep sharing their stories with me not understanding exactly  what’s wrong with what happened to their child or how they handled the situation. I try to show empathy but am saddened due to the sheer number of stories I hear told the same way missing psychological understanding as to the child’s best interest when it comes to feelings… 

Parents generally find these stories interesting or funny, sadly I don’t.
I find them psychologically hurtful to the children and am caught between being polite and listening and always wanting to scream in my head and out loud “are you kidding me with that? 

What I realized over the years is that unless you were given empathy for your hurt feelings and taught how you are feeling as a child or had therapy as an adult: it’s hard to teach your child what you never learned. 

Parenting arguably the most important job in the world raising the next generation we don’t go to school for. We wouldn’t practice medicine without a medical degree yet most adults parent their kids without a degree.

Although I am sure many parents would disagree with this and think they are teaching their kids how to understand how they feel, twenty-five years of clinical practice has taught me parents just think they are teaching feelings or are trying but not sure how to do it.

The rising mental health issues and obesity in our kids is indicative that our kids are not being educated in a helpful way to understand how they feel and get their emotional needs met.

A mom came over to me in the park and said with a wry grin “my daughter punched me in the stomach yesterday”. She proceeded to say ”I was so upset I made her write a note –essay on being sorry and why it is wrong to hit your mom.”

I just stood there and looked at her wondering what did she expect from me, why is she telling me this, and what would she like me to say? This is a mom who has read my books, seen my work in action and asked me countless of times for advice on how to handle things.

 However, this parent still remains unable to implement the idea of asking her child what she is feeling. The mom can’t seem to remember to ask what feelings made her child hit her, ask her to talk about it using her words instead of hitting.

And while there is nothing wrong with writing an essay and saying I’m sorry and is appropriate and respectful as hitting behavior is not acceptable.
But what did this child learn, nothing, she learned that when you hit you write a note saying sorry. I myself would keep hitting who cares about writing a note. 😉

The child didn’t learn that instead of hitting you talk about what you feel. Later that child whom I know a long time ran over to tell me what happened and said unprompted by me “my mom didn’t ask me what I felt and why I hit her” …the kids get it.

I said what were you feeling she said “I was angry and jealous that my mom was going out at night with a friend (a grown-up) who doesn’t have time for me. I was also disappointed and lonely another friend my age couldn’t play longer but my mom had a friend to play with. And I needed more time alone with my mom cause I missed her.”

Then the child says imitating me “At no time did my mom ask me what I was feeling”,” Or ask me to say my feelings instead of hitting.” 

I smiled and said sorry those are very hard feelings to have and that’s hard your mom forgot to help you talk about it… next time maybe you can remind your mom to ask you what you are feeling so you can talk instead of hit. 

The problem with this solution is it’s not really the child’s job to remember this but what alternative is there when the mom is still unable to learn this.
This is not an unusual circumstance that children I know come up to me talking about how they feel sad because their grown-ups don’t understand how important it is to ask “what are you feeling” when they misbehave are cranky or overeat.