Validating Kids’ Feelings Helps Them Stay Safe
I’m going to try devoting my Friday blog posts to the topic of Learning What We Already Know. There’s a ton of wisdom out there in the world, and lots of it has been known for quite a long time but it needs to be passed along.
Today I’m revisiting an oldie but goodie, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, published in 1974. Yes, the title screams 70s (do we speak in terms of “liberating” anyone anymore?), but the concepts are profound and eternal.
I thought about today’s “helicopter parenting” tendencies, our hyper-focus on keeping kids safe, and I reflected on what Faber and Mazlish had to say about the importance of raising kids to be in tune with their own instincts and thereby keep themselves safe.
Feelings are signals. When we deny or dismiss a child’s feelings, we do more harm than we realize:
…when we tell a child that he doesn’t feel what he is feeling, we strip him of his natural protection. Not only that. We confuse him, disorient him, desensitize him.
The authors resolved to respect their children’s feelings, even if it was inconvenient or seemed silly to do so. And it sure paid off, in this incident concerning one author’s pre-teen daughter:
…Jill and I were waiting for the light on a busy intersection. I took her hand and started to cross the street, but she pulled me back. I was about to let her know how annoyed I was, when I remembered. I said, “Jill, I’m glad to see that you trust your own sense of timing, your own feeling of what’s safe for you. We’ll cross when it feels right to you and that will take as long as it has to take.”
As we stood there shivering for five minutes while I saw ten opportunities to cross, I said to myself that anyone watching me would think I was crazy. Maybe I was overdoing this business of teaching her to respect her feelings.
Then an incident occurred which permanently changed my thinking. It was hot summer afternoon. Jill came bursting into the house, her bathing suit still wet, a strange look on her face.
“We were having such a great time in the pool with this nice teenage boy we met,” she said. “He played water-tag with us. Then later he took Linda and me off to the side where the trees are. He asked me if he could lick my toes. He said it would be fun.”
I hardly breathed. “And then what?” I said.
“I didn’t know what to do. Linda thought it was funny, but I didn’t want him to. It made me feel…I don’t know.”
I said, “You mean there was something about the whole thing that didn’t seem right to you even though you didn’t know what it was?”
“Yes,” she nodded, “so I ran home.”
And then the enormity of it hit me. Could a child’s trust in himself, in his own perceptions, help keep him safe? And if we deny a child his perceptions, do we dull his ability to sense danger, and make him vulnerable to the influence of those who do not have his welfare at heart?
Is it possible that sometimes a child’s very survival will depend upon his trust in his own small inner voice?
[I’ve decided to decorate Friday’s posts with images of buildings and other structures, which seem to embody the spirit of human accomplishment. This is the Gehry Ampitheatre in Chicago.]
Cousins, L. (2011). Validating Kids’ Feelings Helps Them Stay Safe. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 5, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/always-learning/2011/11/validating-kids-feelings-helps-them-stay-safe/