Thursday, August 30, 2012
Wellness Matters: Teach kids to sort out own feelings and other tips from an imperfect dad
By Blake L. Jones, MSW, LCSW, Ph.D.
Access Wellness Group
In my last column, I talked about parenting for the future, living in the moment, teaching our children to serve and laying out clear rules. I discuss here a few more tips from my personal experience as a father and as a therapist who works with families.
1. Allow children to take care of their own feelings.
When my sons were little, we sent them to a Montessori school. I loved many things about the Montessori style of education, but one of the things I enjoyed the most was how they taught children to take care of their emotions.
I remember going to get my son, Noah, one afternoon. A delightful teacher from Australia, Miss Mandy, told me politely that I would need to wait until Noah was finished using the “crying mat.” I peeked through the window and saw Noah lying on the crying mat with a scowl on his face.
Miss Mandy told me that Noah had become angry with another child and that he was taking some time to get himself back together. She said this in a very matter of fact way. No big deal… After he finished his time on the crying mat, he ran delightfully back to his friends, and all was well. Too often, we attempt to “fix” things for our children (i.e., telling boys not to cry, haranguing girls until they “snap out of it”) when it is vitally important that they figure out how to sooth themselves. If you’ve been around an adult who doesn’t know how to do this, you know what I mean …
2. Teach children how to sort out their feelings.
This one is closely related to my last point. I have worked with a number of adults (especially men) who simply cannot differentiate between feeling sad, mad, depressed, ashamed and so on. As we look back through their childhood, it is often apparent that they had parents who either didn’t allow them to express “bad” emotions by means of harsh discipline or who allowed them to be a cauldron of emotions, spilling onto the other family members.
Both extremes of parenting are harmful, because it teaches children to either stuff their feelings or to make their feelings everyone else’s problem. In their wonderful book, Raising Cain, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thomas discuss the importance of teaching boys that anger doesn’t need to mean violence, that it’s OK to be strong AND gentle, and that boys gain wonderfully from situations in which they have to work out the messes they have made for themselves.
3. Have fun.
This one is probably my favorite. I mentioned in the last column that we have a “dance off” in our home every Friday. My sons love dancing around and watching their mom and dad shake it to some old school Gap Band or Kool and the Gang. I love to tease and have fun, and I come by this naturally. When I was growing up on a farm in Ohio, I had a wonderful Grandpa who was a master trickster.
The story goes that when my dad came to pick up my mom for their first date, Grandpa was under the hood working on an old car. He reached out to shake Dad’s hand. Unfortunately for Dad, my Grandpa’s other hand was holding a live spark wire! He would always grin when he told that story, hold his hands apart about 6 inches, and laugh, “I swear, the sparks flew off of his nose that far!” I’m not telling you to teach your children to electrocute people, but families who share a good sense of humor together are able to weather the inevitable storms that arise. Humor is a balm, so don’t use it sparingly.
Dr. Blake Jones is a licensed clinical social worker at Access Wellness Group, a Lexington-based group providing counseling and addiction treatment services to individuals, families and Employee Assistance Program client companies. Jones specializes in couples counseling, men’s issues and work-related problems. He is a graduate of Berea College and the University of Kentucky. Jones, who lives in Woodford County with his wife of 17 years and their two sons, is also a singer-songwriter.