What We Tell our Children When We Tell Them What They Feel is Wrong
Adults are meant to guide children and help them pick up clues for finding out who they are. Rather than tell children who they are or aren’t, adults are supposed to support children in the discovery process. When children are appropriately supported in their personal and emotional development, they build essential confidence, self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-trust. Too often parents are concerned– out of insecurity for themselves or insecurity for their child– that what a child is feeling is wrong. It could be inappropriate or it could be confused. We cannot tell our children that what they feel is wrong because it is their personal experience of their own perceptions and their life. What we can do is tell our children that there are options for how they respond to the feelings that arise and remind them that they are empowered to choose the state of mind that stirs these feelings.
When we tell our children, either directly or indirectly, that what they feel is wrong, we don’t just silence them and negate the current moment. We silence their ideas, their beliefs, and their thoughts, as well as teach them to doubt their own feelings and instincts. No matter how right we think we are, we are telling our children that it isn’t just what they think is wrong, but so much more.
Who You Are is Wrong
Until our children learn to differentiate who they are from what they think and what they do, the categories are interconnected. When we negate our children’s feelings in a non-compassionate way, we negate the very essence of what or who they believe they are at the time. Giving a child the message “you are wrong” is damaging to self-esteem and self-worth, feeding adolescent insecurities about inadequacy.
What You Think is Wrong
Children are learning to think for themselves, to the best of their ability, with the best ideas that they have. We have to expect as parents that our child’s first thought might not be their best thought– to us, but that first thought might be the best thought our child has at the time, for them. Especially when our child’s brains have been compromised by chronic exposure to mind altering chemicals, we have to expect that their thinking will not, and cannot yet, mimic that of an adult. We teach our children that their thinking is incorrect, which tells them they cannot think correctly and sets them on course to doubt themselves.
What You Feel Can’t Be Trusted, Because it’s Wrong
Feelings are not facts. As children mature through therapy and treatment, they learn more and more about their feelings. They learn to name them, understand them, regulate them, make choices about them, and learn about where they come from in their past. Children also learn how to own their feelings instead of push their feelings away, judge their feelings, or try to feel something other than what they are feeling at that moment. Telling a child that their feelings are wrong is telling them that their personal experience of the world isn’t right. Children in treatment for addiction and alcoholism, along with secondary emotional or mental health issues, are fighting to normalize their emotional experience of the world in order not to feel separated mentally.
You Can’t Count on Yourself to Know What is Right
Ultimately, when we tell our children what they feel is wrong, we tell them that they cannot count on themselves to know what is right or trust themselves in their thoughts or their feelings– something they are earnestly working toward achieving. It’s important to help them decipher right from wrong but not to completely discredit their instincts and first reactions such that they learn to distrust themselves.
Learning to communicate in healthy, assertive ways with your addicted child takes time and participation in treatment. At Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center, we value family healing and require family participation to help our patients grow. Our unique adolescent male treatment center offers residential treatment and intensive outpatient programming in addition to academic support. Your family can heal. Stonewater was built because our family did. For information, call us today: 662-598-4214.