Creating a feeling-friendly environment

Feelings give us feedback about our environment and alert us to take action. Imagine the trouble we would get ourselves into if we never felt fear. It is important for your children to learn that feelings are never bad. Actions, however, can and often do bring bad results. Children - and adults too - need an environment in which they can safely express their feelings.

When children first start expressing feelings with words, they are taking a risk. If you respond with a validation of their feelings, they will be much more likely to try out this healthy behavior again. If your response is negative, they may not want to risk again. It is surprising how many invalidating statements we make without even thinking.

Invalidating Statements

(statements that imply feelings are bad or do not exist at all)

Validating Statements

(statements that acknowledge that a feeling is real and gives the child permission to feel that way)

Don’t be mad. Lots of children feel angry when their parents are splitting up.
Cheer up. It’s not that bad. 
Get over it.
It looks like you’re feeling sad. Sometimes talking about it helps.
You’re overreacting. It looks like this is really important to you.
You shouldn’t worry about that. That is quite a worry. What is it about sharing a bedroom with your sister that you think will be difficult?

Sometimes it will be very hard to remain calm and supportive. For example, your child might one day utter the words, “I hate you!” This is a classic example of expressing feelings in a way that hurts someone. On the plus side, it could be a teachable moment. First, help your child identify that he/she is feeling angry. Verify that this is a normal feeling to have when parents are separating or divorcing. When things have calmed down, be sure to tell your child that you felt hurt when he/she said, “I hate you.” It was not the anger that hurt; it was the way it was expressed.

When your children are in a feeling-friendly environment, the door is open to discuss problems and worries in a healthy way. Sometimes this leads to problem solving. Sometimes the underlying situation cannot be changed, and we must simply help them recognize and work through the feelings. Either way, your support and encouragement will be appreciated.