Whenever I say to someone, “Happy New Year,” I feel regret. It’s not that I don’t want people to have a happy new year. The turning over of the year is a great opportunity to offer warm, sincere wishes to those with whom we live, work, and play. Most people appreciate the words. In fact, they usually respond with a “Happy New Year” greeting for me! Smiles are exchanged to seal the deal and on we go. Yet I feel bothered by these words because somehow they seem unrealistic. Can anyone, I wonder, especially a parent, experience a whole new year filled with “Happy?”
Happy Kids, Happy Parents?
Parents frequently state happiness as a goal for their child’s life. You genuinely want your children to be happy. Happy implies contentment, satisfaction, and success in life. In turn, you feel successful as a parent if your children are happy. Their happiness, at least in part, must surely reflect the good job you are doing in raising them! So when they feel sadness, disappointment, worry, hurt, or embarrassment, you can feel a strong need to “fix them” so the happy feelings can soon return – for both of you! You can fear that if your children’s negative feelings persist and you do not “make” them go away, you will feel as if you are “not a good parent!!” OUCH!!!
Unhappy Kids, Respectful Parents
So-called “negative” feelings tend to be less acceptable to most people. When a child cries, you may feel compelled to “SHHH” them; when a child whines, you may tend to give in or respond harshly to end the high pitched drone; when a child expresses anger, your impulse may direct you towards a quick resolution. Unhappy feels unsettling.
Yet children grow and learn through their experiences, even the negative ones. By facing disappointment, frustration, sadness, and loss children discover their strength, their ability to cope, their resiliency. We actually do our children a disservice when we deny them these opportunities.
And while you don’t want them to face situations that are going to crush them, you do want to give them the freedom to wrestle with these feelings while you can be there to support them and encourage them. “Rescuing” them would prevent their growth and valuable learning that comes from accepting and expressing all kinds of feelings.
So instead of making it all better, you can say to the crying child,
“You sound sad.”
To the whining child, your response might be,
“Something’s really bothering you.”
And as a gift for the one who appears outwardly angry but is inwardly sensitive, you might offer,
“It just doesn’t seem fair.”
Rather than inflicting happiness upon your children, you can respect that their feelings are real and deserve to be acknowledged.
Happy Kids, Pressured Parents
Just for fun, I asked my husband and a few friends how they might feel if I assigned them the task of keeping their kids happy for the entire year. Their responses included,
- imposed upon
They looked at me as if I was crazy for even suggesting such a notion! My husband simply laughed!! Yet, how many parents unconsciously consider that to be their duty? At the end of the day, if one or more of your children was crying, whining, or angry more than once, who does not question or blame themselves for not being able to restore the child to “happy?”
Unhappy Past, Unhappy Present
Recognizing that you cannot and perhaps should not strive to raise “happy” children doesn’t necessarily make it easier to accept and acknowledge their feelings. During your growing up years, it may not have been okay for you to feel sad, disappointed, embarrassed, worried or hurt. You may have been told to “wipe that frown off your face,” or “stop that moping around.” Perhaps you were not allowed to feel at all. Some children are told that they don’t know what problems are and can’t possibly have something to upset them; they’re only children. These beliefs can block your intentions to provide healthy responses to your own children.
It can take some effort to free you from these past messages. But as you learn to accept all of your children’s feelings, both the happy and the sad ones, you can become better acquainted with your own range of emotions. You can then show your children through your actions how to handle the tough ones in ways that will leave them intact and stronger.
Unhappy New Year, Healthy Family
Wishing people an Unhappy New Year probably won’t catch on. So, I suppose I need to come up with a phrase that encourages those with whom I live, work and play to experience the full range of healthy emotions, including those considered “negative,” and still have a happy new year.
Perhaps the key is to give yourself permission to grow, learn, change and accept your own feelings as you work on helping your children do the same. For now, I’ll stick with the familiar “Happy New Year” and trust that each of you will relate it to your own efforts to to create an emotionally healthy new year for your family.By Pam Nicholson, Certified Parenting Educator and MSW
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