Azine Graff, PsyD
Parenting is the most challenging job you will ever have and can truly be the most rewarding. It is often those things that push us to question our perceptions, thoughts, and our own values that help us grow into stronger and wiser human beings.
As humans we are cursed and blessed with the ability to reflect on our thoughts and feelings, unlike animals. As a result, we are often able to make changes for the better and improve our relationships with others and ourselves.
In raising our children we have the opportunity to develop new insights and perspectives, if we take the time to reflect on and consciously choose our parenting strategies.
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Azine Graff, PsyD
I clearly remember listening to my then 2-year-old daughter as she was comforting her doll. She
sounded out the cries of her doll and followed it with, “I got you. You’re safe.”
My heart was melting as she gave her doll the same care I gave her when she would cry from a scraped knee or when feeling frightened. I realize now that this is a form of empathy, as she was empathizing with her “crying” baby and using what had comforted her when she had cried.
As parents we often get caught up with academics—feeling that children must learn how to read early on and solve math problems to succeed—but we forget about the life skills that are needed and not learned in a school book.
Empathy is one of them. Some might think that an empathic child would just be a sensitive child wearing their heart on their sleeve.
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Azine Graff, PsyD
Raising children can present some rude awakenings. Like the time my daughter pretended to be a boy so that “she can show me how to use the tools.” No one ever said girls can’t use tools—but she had never actually seen me use tools (eek).
Children absorb everything—relationship habits are high on the list. They are not just learning how to interact with their future partner, but also their peers, and of course you.
It takes a lot of thought to create a relationship that is not only beneficial for the individuals in it, but one that can have a positive impact on the children that view it daily.
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Azine Graff, PsyD (as published on Mother.ly)
I was prepping my daughter for sleep one night and we were going through our routine as usual. She wasn’t really having it. She was wavering between being fussy and squealing with joy.
I knew that she had some new teeth coming in, so I kept that in mind as I was letting her do her thing. I had been woken up particularly early that morning so I could feel my patience wearing thin.
Eventually, I started to feel frustrated and just started saying “go to sleep” in my head repeatedly—and loudly. Almost immediately, I started to feel guilt and shame. I asked myself:What kind of a
peaceful mama am I?
It was not until after I woke up the next morning that it hit me. A “peaceful mama” isn’t a mama that is void of negative feelings.
As mothers, we are barraged on a daily basis with a gamut of emotions—some delightfully sweet and some, well, not so much. Thank you, hormones and sleep deprivation.
No, a peaceful mama isn’t one who doesn’t experience negative emotions. She is one who takes ownership of these feelings and tries her best not to displace them onto her child or others.
We teach our children that “All feelings are OK; all behavior isn’t.” Does the same not apply to exhausted mothers who are desperate for baby to sleep so they can finish laundry, e-mails, and maybe even a 20-minute re-run before crashing and starting allover again the next day?
I say all of this to let you know that there is no such thing as a perfect mama. You will feel an array of emotions and that is perfectly fine!
It is important to own those feelings, apologize if you do unleash them on others, and take the steps necessary to cope with them—even if that means screaming into a pillow once in a while.Fighting feelings of shame, guilt, or anger is no way to live peacefully. Fighting them can lead us to hurt others, especially the ones we love.
We must embrace and own our feelings—yes, all of them.
This means relishing the good emotions and working through the bad ones. Now, that is the path towards finding peace as a mama.
By Azine Graff, PsyD (as published on Mother.ly)
As a child you may have tripped or fallen and were told “don’t cry” just as you were about to let out your tears.
Now, as adults many of us repeat this phrase to our partners, children, or loved ones.
Your little one’s emotional expression is growing by leaps and bounds.
She may be expressing separation anxiety, fear of the dreaded vacuum cleaner, or fascination as she gazes at her reflection in the mirror.
He may express many of her newfound emotions by crying loudly—and you may cringe in response.
But what is so wrong with crying? What perceptions of crying have you developed? Does crying mean you are “weak,” or are you afraid it will make others uncomfortable if you cry? Do you say “don’t cry” because you are uncomfortable seeing someone express sadness or because you would not be sure how to handle it if they did cry? As you can imagine there are many feelings that could come up around this. But what message are we giving our children when we tell them to hold back their tears?
When we tell someone not to do something, it is typically because it is seen as unacceptable (for whatever reason). So, we are telling our children that crying is not acceptable, when, in fact, it is a normal and helpful response to expressing sadness. In addition to the message we are sending our children, we are also encouraging them to hold back or even stifle their feelings. This is a pattern that could follow them into their adult years and hinder their relationships and personal growth. It can be difficult to break free from perceptions we develop about feelings, whether they are about sadness, anger, frustration, or insecurity.
To encourage your child’s expression of feelings, there are two changes that you can make to help your child express their feelings in an effective manner--
1. Reflect back your child’s feelings.
Acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions.
For instance, if you notice your child pouting when you pick them up from school, take notice and say, “It seems like you’re upset. I’m here, if you want to talk about it.” Your child will be encouraged to label his or her feelings and appreciate that you are taking notice of them and showing support.
2. Notice your own feelings and do something about them.
When you notice yourself becoming upset you can say, “I am starting to get frustrated. I am going to take a 10 minute break in my room.”
You will be modeling for your child how you would want them to manage anger, while also taking care of yourself so you can be more effective in solving whatever issues arise.
As with any other parenting practice, encouraging your child’s emotional expression requires practice, practice, practice! It’s okay to fumble through and make a few mistakes along the way.
You are human, too.