My son is getting to the age where he understands what he wants and how to get it. And, of course, I want him to express himself, but it needs to be in a positive way. He wears his heart on his sleeve (and in his voice, his fists, his stamping feet, and his crocodile tears). You seldom have to guess about his emotional state. And, I have to say: expressing emotions is healthy, even when they aren’t happy/cheerful ones. So, there’s no need to rush in–to placate him at the first pout, or sad sniffle.
I want my son to know that it’s okay to be unhappy sometimes–it’s simply a part of life. Swooping in to vanquish the unhappiness sends the wrong message (that it’s not okay to feel sad or mad). But, this is hard to do at times. I hate to see my son ever sad or upset. I want to fix everything (I really wish that I could!). But, I won’t be able to solve everything, and I don’t want to rob him of the opportunity to work through his feelings on his own.
But, that’s not to say that I have to stand by and do NOTHING at all…
- I can label his feelings (verbalize why he’s upset). For example: “You’re mad at Dada because he said ‘no park today’!”
- I can let him know that I have the same feelings, too: “It makes you feel sad when we say ‘bye-bye’ to Grandma. It makes me feel sad, too.”
- But, then, also, I can show him acceptable ways to express his emotions. I encourage him to verbalize how he’s feeling–even in toddler language. Instead of screaming or hitting–when he’s angry or upset, I show him other outlets (like punching a pillow).
It’s often not much fun to tell him that he can’t have his way, but he needs boundaries. And, I need to make those boundaries clear and consistent.