How to Make Space for Your Child’s Negative Emotions

negative emotions

Good kids will experience negative emotions. I’ll be the first to admit that I’d love it if my home and the people in it were always filled with only positive emotions–feelings like happiness, contentment, and gratefulness. But all children, even those in a healthy family, will have negative emotions. A child’s negative emotions include sadness, fear, jealousy, loneliness, anger, and disappointment.

Negative emotions make me uncomfortable and my first inclination is to make them stop. But in the last eight years, I’ve gone through deep grief and navigated my kids through theirs. I’ve seen that negative emotions are signposts; they’re indicators of a problem and burying them or forbidding them won’t help our kids work through the problem driving these feelings. Let’s look at three ways to make space for your child’s negative emotions.

Don’t idolize your peace and quiet.

We will never make space for our children to express and process difficult emotions if we prioritize our own comfort. Snapping at my child to stop yelling at her brother may get me the quiet I desire but at the cost of helping her learn how to live peacefully. Instead, I need to stop what I’m doing and ask questions. What’s bothering her? Is this situational or did something happen at school today? How can she express frustration without raising her voice at others? Working through the underlying issue will cost me time and comfort now, but will build healthy children and healthy relationships long-term.

Listen rather than lecture.

“I can’t believe she shared my secret!” my tween said, shutting the car door. “Now everyone knows.” She was hurt, angry and embarrassed and she needed space to be heard. I could have told her she should be more careful or even discussed the underlying “secret.” But when a child’s emotions are running high, he or she won’t hear anything in a lecture. Kids only hear, “Your emotions aren’t welcome here.” Save correction and life lessons for a later conversation when your child’s emotions are steady.

Love when you can’t fix.

We moms are used to fixing things for our kids. Can’t get that shoe tied? Here, let me help. Confused about the homework? Here, I can show you. But there are some things we can’t fix for our children. We can’t fix it when children are sad over the death of a grandparent or pet or when they discover they weren’t invited to a birthday party. There’s not much we can do to cure their loneliness after a cross-country move or their disappointment when they don’t make the volleyball squad. We can listen, we can hug them while they cry, and we can share our own experiences. When our children face adversity we can’t fix, we need to love them through it.

Although a child’s negative emotions might make us uncomfortable, if we make space for them, they can become opportunities for growth and maturity.

Which negative emotion is hardest for you to parent through?