As if speaking up about emotions isn't difficult enough, I will strongly agree with anyone who says that it's even more difficult to do so if you are a child. We still live in a society where children are told to "suck it up and stop crying," which is largely due to the fact that for years, children have been bombarded with the task of maintaining pop culture's mostly unrealistic image of superheroes. Let's face it — on the big screen, being strong and brave rarely factors in acceptable levels of sensitivity which include tears.
I have a 12-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter who have seen their fair share of struggles. That's not to say that they don't have a happy life — because they do — but I think it's safe to say that the ups and downs their precious minds and souls have experienced are already more numerous than those which most adults have experienced.
Stressful relationship break-ups, witnessing the effects of mental illnesses which caused me to be taken away in an ambulance — these are all too much for anyone's eyes, let alone a child's.
Thankfully, our lives have done a 180-degree turn, resulting in a home life that is peaceful (for the most part... as long as we aren't chasing our dog Walter). We laugh a lot now. My son is doing better in school, and both have that sparkle back in their eyes that I missed for so long! But no matter how much better life is, there are still times when I can tell that they are feeling sad and/or worried.
I have learned a lot of amazing things about the power of accepting our feelings while recovering from post-traumatic stress, depression and addiction.
My kids are very conscious of not hurting my feelings, and try to make sure I am always happy. That must be very tiring, and I get it, as I used to try to make my mom happy all the time, too. But no matter how hard I try to show them that I am healthy and very happy, they get overwhelmed and afraid at times, and just need a good cry.
I have learned a lot of amazing things about the power of accepting our feelings while recovering from post-traumatic stress, depression and addiction, and I am so grateful for this as I now do my best to share these strategies with my kids.
The old me often got frustrated when my kids cried, and looking back now, I realize that frustration came from a lack of knowledge of how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. I feel sick to my stomach now when I remember times when I sent my kids to their room until they stopped crying, or telling them that they were OK when clearly they were not.
Here are some emotion-accepting tips I now implement with my kids. These may seem pretty basic to most parents, but I'm willing to chance an eye-roll or two and be "that mom" who thinks she knows a thing or two about parenting... because, well, now I do.
Don't impose a time limit
When my kids are sad, I console them and tell them it's OK to cry. I don't give them a time limit on when that should be done. No more, "OK, that's enough crying," because who am I to judge that it's enough? I would be mad if someone said that to me, so why is it OK to say that to our kids?
Let them feel what they feel
I validate their fears and concerns. I don't say, "that's nothing to cry about" or "that's a silly thing to be afraid of," because once again, I am not in their mind and have no right to choose how they feel.
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Listen and give them your full attention
I take the time to listen to why they are upset. I am the first to admit that I usually have my phone in my hand, but when they are sad, I put it down. Granted, I may need to actively remind myself to so... but I do. Nothing is more important in that moment than giving my full attention to them.
Don't be afraid to cry, too
And last but certainly not least, I show my sadness, too! When I was sick, I thought that hiding my emotions protected my kids from pain, when in fact it caused it. They are so in tune with our personalities, including our non-verbal language, that they can tell when we are sad. Denying this only confuses them, and in fact makes them worry more. To my surprise, when I started telling my kids the truth about my emotions, they accepted it and went on with their day!
Crying isn't easy for most of us. But I challenge you to remember a time when you didn't feel better after you did! I can actually compare the feeling of calm after a good cry to that of the feeling of relief and happiness when a run is done. Let's make sure that we don't hold those opportunities for calm, happiness and relief hostage from our children.
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