It’s one of those days again. You woke up with a stiff back and a crick in your neck. The kids are fighting over breakfast, chores are undone and the game of “he said, she said” is in full swing. The little guy is having a blast cutting vegetable tops into a million pieces as he practices his cutting skills on the kitchen floor. The dryer is choking again, groceries need to be bought and telemarketers have all randomly selected you for calls today!
Amidst the fights, the long list of incomplete chores and schoolwork that needs to be completed, one lessons screams to be taught- emotional cleanup: bringing out our emotions in front of the kids. The best way to teach our children something is to show rather than tell them about it. With that same principle in mind, here comes the hard part- showing our vulnerable side to our children. Being open with our emotions humanizes us in the eyes of our children. Since children learn from what we do more than what we say, we need to model appropriate behavior and teach them how to handle feelings and emotions. If we shy away from conversations of emotional disturbances and take a break from the kids to deal with issues privately, kids won’t see us solve problems and may have a hard time doing so themselves.
As parents of little ones will tell you, kids watch our every move and mimic our every action. They notice the frown on our faces and the wrinkle on our foreheads to know that something is not right, yet we do not open ourselves to our children and show them our emotions, perhaps because we are culturally trained to stay private about emotions. I am not suggesting that we go through an emotional meltdown in front of our children, but we need to teach them how to articulate their feelings, and where to look for help in finding solutions to problems and this can only happen if we do the same. A few days ago when things got out of control at home, I put myself in a “time out.” I gathered all my kids and told them that I am very upset at the way they were behaving with each other and with the things at home. They showed disrespect to the things, to each other and to me as their mom and teacher. I told them that I was so upset that I had to stop and take a break, hence the time out, so I don’t say or do something I will feel bad about later. With that said, I sat down with a glass of water to think of what to do next and where to begin the cleanup process. Much to my surprise, they got themselves together, started cleaning up (with argumentation, no doubt), but at a much lower volume than before. My baby kept checking on me asking, “Are you okay, mama?” while the rest of them cleaned up the place and were gleefully waiting to “surprise” me when I came out of ‘time out’. Secretly, I enjoyed my time out. It was a necessary break that helped me break away from the emotions of anger and frustration and move towards the true love and affection I feel for my kids. It also taught my little ones empathy-they felt bad for what they had done, but I think they felt bad for my state, more so.
We need to go through an emotional clean up at times and doing this in front of our children can be helpful in teaching them that it’s okay for people in charge to take a break from their roles and vent. It may also stop something potentially worse from happening to us emotionally. Our emotional cleanups though have to be expressive, clear, and concise. We have to help others see the problems but not drag everyone down with guilt and helplessness. We have to be open and honest and show respect to everyone involved. We need to keep a clear, controlled tone and voice in order to show control over the situation. If we appropriately show our own emotions and articulate them well, our children will learn to do the same. If we slip and make a mistake (use foul language for example), we need to clean it up-apologize and correct ourselves.
Culturally, we have been taught to stay in power by being strong emotionally and not showing any signs of weakness to those in our care. Dads do this more so than moms do. But boys especially need to see emotional talk and clean up within the family so they don’t pent up all their emotions and blow up when it gets too much to handle. Giving our children the opportunity to watch and learn how we handle a bad day or a wrench in the wheel of life is an extremely important life lesson to impart. Things seldom go our way and we need to know how to deal with them when this happens. Early parenting teaches us to train our young ones to “use their words”, but something turns off when kids are over ten years old. By this time, young kids often shut themselves off in their rooms and only admit to “nothing is wrong” when questioned. This demands us to watch how we deal with issues. Do we push things away to be dealt with later? or privately? or do we openly admit there are things beyond our control and turn to God for help?
As parents who often feel overwhelmed with the millions of things we have to teach our children, we often forget what we are teaching them without even trying. Our body language, our demeanor and our actions speak louder than anything we may say. So, when life throws us a fast one, we should be prepared to enlist the help of our little soldiers and meet the challenge head on. Sometimes, it may be praying together and having the young ones make dua for patience and strength for us. Their pure prayers may be answered sooner than we know it!