Here is an interesting question for you...growing up, how many times has someone said to you "You'll be fine"? Did you feel reassured? I'm going to take a wild guess and say no... It is possible that you would have left that conversation not feeling any better than at the start.
You may have felt like the emotions you were just expressing were dismissed, or subtly been told to ignore it. If this happened to you many times as a child, then as an adult, when coming across similar situations, it is likely you also dismiss your feelings and try to "get through it" no matter how you feel. You may intellectualize your emotions rather than actually feeling them.
Our childhood environment
When we talk about child development, we often talk about how important the child's environment is and what they need to grow into healthy adults. If you've grown up in an environment where negative emotions like sadness, pain, or anger have been met with dismissal by your parents, or adults around you, you subconsciously form a connection between expressing negative emotions and that being not great for your environment. You begin repressing your feelings or stop paying attention to how you really feel about a situation. This then becomes a way of life for you.
As you get older and start forming intimate relationships, your partners may complain that you don't express how you feel about them. Or you may notice that you have a heightened awareness of other people's emotional states and often think about how they would react rather than where you stand with things. You people please or push people away.
In life, we know that not everything is going to be perfect and okay. We cannot be happy all the time. Sometimes things don't work out. You will lose jobs, you will lose people you love and you will lose things.
"Happiness is not a stand-alone feeling. Happiness is a comparative emotion. The measure of happiness a person feels is judged against the measure of sadness a person felt in the past. The greater degree of sadness, the greater degree of happiness. Without sadness, happiness has no meaning. Ironically, the fear of emotional sadness often restricts a person’s ability to experience the high heights of happiness." - John R. “Jack” Schafer, Ph.D.
Thinking about the environment we create for our children.
Emotions are important as they tell us about what is happening in the world around us and tell us how those things affect us. When we ignore or dismiss our emotions, it makes it difficult for us to make the connection between our inner world and the outer world. This disconnect leads us to choose the wrong people to be friends with. To be treated less than we truly deserve. It leads to a lower emotional quality.
So now you can get an understanding of how important it is to think about our behaviour and the things we say to our children are.
3 Ways you can create an emotionally safe environment for your child!
Only model behaviour you want your child to pick up
Children learn the most through their environment and their experiences. They repeat the things you say, and most importantly, they tend to "copy" your behaviour. Practice naming your emotions as they happen around your child. For example, if something has made you angry, start by identifying the feeling. Then do a breathing technique to calm yourself down. When you have settled down, talk about the incident, express what made you angry, and now that you're in a calmer state of mind, point out how you will go about responding to the situation.
You've now set an excellent example and framework for managing one emotion. It shows your child that it is possible to experience a whole host of emotions and deal with them in an appropriate manner instead of letting a feeling take over and be a driving factor in your response to a situation.
Dealing with frustration and anger
Your child will get frustrated. It is crucial as a parent that you acknowledge it. You can say things like, "I know it's difficult to wait, but you can read a book, or you can do a puzzle while waiting."
The strategy is to teaching emotional self-regulation is to
acknowledge that it is hard
recognise your child's desire (impulse), and
most importantly, offer an approach to help your child regulate
Some children are naturally strong-willed. These qualities will no doubt serve them well as they get older. However, teaching your child how to emotionally self-regulate will also aid in developing Cognitive Hardiness, which helps children persevere through hard things and eventually overcome them.
Respond rather than reacting
You can "catch" your child just when they're about to experience an episode, as you know your child the best. You know the triggers; you understand how they are when they're tired and starting to be cranky. Label those emotions, reflect on those emotions presently with your child and work together with your child as they are dealing with the feeling to know that they are not alone. Being solution-based around emotion teaches your child to move past and start responding productively to their situation.
Reinforce when your child puts in effort in dealing with their emotions appropriately. Going back to the example of your child working on a task, you can say things like, "I love all the effort you have put into this "activity"! You've been trying to figure it out, and it looks like you're almost done! Great job!"
The quality of the relationship with our parents or other significant adults in our lives directly influences how we relate to our own children. At times as a parent, we are reminded of our own unresolved past trauma because relating to our children can become a re-enactment of the early experiences we had with our parents. You don't have to be the perfect human being, but you can be a well-regulated one.