Helping Kids Process Their Emotions Free From Shame

Photography: Victoria Gloria Photography

By Suzanne Tucker

Have you ever heard someone tell a child who is crying to stop? Maybe they lead with something like, “What are you, a baby?” Or maybe they add in  some fear as well by saying, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Oof.

Most of us cringe to think these things are being said to children (and they are) but are we aware of the more subtle ways we ourselves might be dismissing children’s emotions? 

If you’ve ever caught yourself wanting to tell an emotional child to just stop, (so basically, if you are a human being) here are three things to keep in mind that will help you help kids process their emotions free from shame.   

1) ALLOW FOR EMOTIONS: Kids can actually feel intimidated by their own emotions, especially when adults in their lives react negatively to the expression of those feelings. When we react to a child’s experience and make having big feelings “wrong”, no matter how inconvenient or annoying that experience might me, we are minimizing and at times denying that child the right to their own internal experience. And as tempting as dismissing and denying might seem because we think we are “nipping this bad attitude in the bud”, in actuality, we are likely making things worse; at times even increasing the likelihood that we will find ourselves back in this very place tomorrow. And really, who wants that?

You do not need to agree with someone’s emotions to make space for them. All you really need to do is allow for them.

The first step in helping kids learn to process their feelings is acceptance. We get to accept the fact that this child is feeling one form of not happy or another. Allow for emotions. Period. End of story. Whether you see these emotions as logical or ludacris is irrelevant. Hit a pause button on the inner dialog that wants to scream, “What is wrong with you!?!?” and make space for their emotions instead. You do not need to agree with someone’s emotions to make space for them. All you really need to do is allow for them.

In the face of screaming and whining, allowing is easier said than done, so it’s helpful to have a phrase in your back pocket you can turn to for strength. Mine is this:

“EMOTIONS ARE SACRED.”

For me this means that emotions are not right and they are not wrong. They just are. Emotions are safe to feel, they matter, and they are always allowed. Kids are simply exploring a whole new world of feelings and benefit greatly when the adults in their world support this process.

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