How Do You Feel About Feelings?

October 30, 2019

This is the third post in our series about emotions. Click here to read our first 2 posts:

“All feelings are valid...”

“... But what about behaviour?”

A lot has been written about the validity of feelings, and advice can be passed around by the bucketful when it comes behaviour and misbehaviour, but The Number One Way that kids learn about feelings is by watching how their parents deal with them first. Take a moment to consider:

How do you feel about your feelings?

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That question may sound a little strange. After all, most people like feeling happy and dislike being sad. We strive to feel more “good” feelings and try to avoid the “bad” ones. Right?

Let’s get more specific than that: families and individuals vary in how they perceive specific feelings. Although we might all agree that sadness and anger are unpleasant feelings, some people favour quiet sadness over explosive anger, seeing anger as violent or dangerous. Others see sadness as a sign of weakness, while anger is portrayed as a feeling of strength and self defence.

Now imagine those different types of people as different types of parents. Kids are observant and highly malleable -- the way their parents respond to their feelings is quickly internalised both as a message and a lesson.

How do parents handle their kids’ feelings? In Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, Dr. John Gottman describes 4 different types of parents: Dismissing, Disapproving, Laissez-Faire, and the Emotion Coach.

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Dismissing parents characteristically treat their children’s feelings as trivial. They want their children’s negative emotions to disappear because they think these feelings are “harmful or toxic”, and they try to protect their kids from feeling sad, angry, afraid, or embarrassed.

Dismissing parents might...

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Disapproving parents are similar to dismissing ones, but they go one step further to actively punish their children when they express the feelings that they deem inappropriate. Disapproving parents often tackle the behaviour that the feelings lead to (remember the difference between feelings and behaviour?) instead of empathising with their children.

Disapproving parents might...

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Dismissing and disapproving parents have the good intentions of building their children’s characters up and preparing them for the real world. Acting out of love and wanting the best for their kids, these parents see certain emotions as obstacles rather than opportunities.

That’s why we started with the question: how do you feel about your feelings? Identifying your relationship with certain emotions is the first step to understanding how those biases affect the way you handle your children’s emotions — whether you treat their feelings as roadblocks or stepping stones.

Next week, we will learn more about Gottman’s other 2 types of parents: Laissez Faire, and the ideal Emotion Coach.

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