Yesterday, my children saw me crying as I felt a wave of sadness wash over me after receiving some news.
It is so healthy for children to see us as fully human and to witness us resting in the vulnerability of our soft hearts, whilst staying connected to our bodies as our emotions move through us.
Modelling this safe expression of our emotions is just as vital as holding space for our child’s emotional expression.
Yet, there is an art to ensuring that we are expressing our emotions in a healthy way where our child does not take responsibility for our emotions.
One of the most common questions I get asked by parents is whether it’s okay to express sadness and grief in front of their child.
Often parents hold back from expressing any sadness at all in front of their child due to a fear that their child will feel responsible for taking care of them, which they may have experienced themselves as a child.
Or, one on the other end of the continuum, a parent may have a flood of emotions which is overwhelming for their child due to not receiving the modelling of healthy boundaries and containment during their childhood.
Invisible attachment layers from unresolved childhood wounds influence the ways a parent emotionally relates to their child.
Intergenerational patterns can unconsciously impact the emotional energy field in the parent-child relationship.
Sometimes support from a therapist may be needed to help untangle any intergenerational relational wounds and restore healthy boundaries.
Here are some important things to remember about how to express healthy emotions in front of your child.
Letting your child know that you are taking care of yourself
When my first child was a baby, I was so blessed to receive healing body-based support as part of our healing from his birth trauma. The wisdom this mentor shared with me has been a gem which has infused my heartful parenting and which I am profoundly grateful for.
The phrase she shared with me during my earliest parenting days has become an essential part of my parenting toolkit and one which I share with parents.
She taught me to say:
“I am feeling sad right now and it’s not about you. I’m taking good care of myself.”
These words are like balm for your child’s soul.
They share an authentic expression of your inner experience, whilst freeing your child of any responsibility to take care of you or take on your emotions.
You can feel your child’s body relax in every cell when you say these words. This phrase is deeply honouring of both your inner experience and theirs.
Staying connected to your body
By staying connecting to our bodies we can allow emotions to move through us, rather than staying stuck. I am passionate about supporting parents to learn how to feel emotions in an embodied way. We can learn ways to create more safety and space inside our bodies so that there is a fluidity and flexibility in the river of emotions and sensations.
Our bodies help bring us into the here and now.
We can learn to pause, notice our breath, feel our feet on the ground and to notice our sensations. By embodying our own emotions, our children learn by osmosis how to stay embodied in their emotions.
Naming feelings and needs
Naming our feelings and needs through using compassionate communication, also known as Non-violent Communication, is a wonderful tool to model to our children that we are taking self-responsibility for our emotions. The research shows that the body responds when the aligned feelings and needs are guessed. It’s as though our whole body relaxes into feeling known and understood.
This also frees our children up from believing that they must meet our emotional needs. When we are supporting ourselves with warmth and empathy, our children will receive this information so differently inside them.
Nurturing our child’s trust in their body knowing
We need to explicitly name our inner experience to ensure our sensitive little humans don’t internalise responsibility for what is ours.
Growing people are so vulnerable to taking responsibility and internalising beliefs around things being about them unless we consciously do our inner work to own what belongs to us.
Children are deeply intuitive and can sense the inner world of their parent. When a parent holds back or denies that they are feeling big emotions, it is a source of deep confusion for a child as they sense the incongruence between their felt sense and your words. This comes at a great cost to a child’s trust in their intuition.
However, naming our emotions in a safe and contained way, where we provide reassurance that we are taking care of ourselves, allows a child’s body to relax and honours their felt sense knowing.
This creates the space for true empathy and compassion to organically emerge within our children. We teach them the invaluable life learning that our inner experience is separate from theirs.
This also models healthy differentiation to your child, a sense of where they end and where another begins. Differentiation is a vital life skill which we need to teach our child, and sometimes we may need support learning these healthy boundaries if we did not receive that modelling growing up.
We can learn these through reparenting ourselves and receiving support to rewire those pathways and restore healthy boundaries through working with a trusted therapist.
Sharing in age-appropriate ways
It is important to only share age appropriately with your child.
You do not need to share with them the deep story of your sadness and grief that is arising in that moment. Hold the intention of sharing your body truth and sensations in a very safe and contained way.
Nurturing our Compassionate Self Witness
Through nurturing our own Compassionate Self Witness, the part of us that can hold the other parts of us with warmth and tenderness, we can soothe the child within us in a safe container.
This safe containment is the vital ingredient which enables our child to feel safe and protected, even in the midst of us having big emotions in our bodies.
Our emotions and body sensations let us know that the wounded child within us being awakened.
We can learn to listen to the how the child inside us is always communicating with us and reaching out for unconditional love, safety and soothing.
Being that Compassionate Self Witness for ourselves is so vital for reparenting and in modelling taking care of our emotional selves to our child.
We can provide the child within us the healing and repairs that were missing in the moments of wounding in childhood.
We can internalise self-compassion holding through receiving this by osmosis in our cells from being held by trusted others.
Our bodies are wired to grow and change.
Every moment is alive with possibilities.
Calling in support and resources
These moments are an opportunity for you to model to your child the internal and external resources that you call in nurture and soothe yourself when you are needing comfort. Resources are anything that helps us to feel supported and nurtured, including cuddling a pet, placing our hand on our heart, spending time in nature or ringing a friend for empathy. It can be really supportive to keep a list of your resources to remind you in those moments when you need them the most.
Sometimes we may need to take some time away in another room, or ring a friend for empathy, to create the space we are needing to metabolise the strong emotions flowing through our bodies. We can let our child know that we are receiving support and taking care of ourselves.
Most importantly, it is so important to be gentle with ourselves, especially if reading this evokes some strong emotions in you for the times where you have not been able to express to your child in this way.
I offer you the gentle reminder that we all do the best we can in each moment with the resources that we have, and that we are growing alongside our children.