On any given day kids and teens may feel joy, wonder, disappointment, rage, jealousy, and endless other feelings. Yet, many kids will inevitably learn from parents or peers that “happy” is the only emotion acceptable to express or even experience. “Happiness” in our culture tends to reign supreme as the highest aspiration – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is what we are taught to aim for – what we all deserve.
I commonly hear parents say to their kids:
- I just want you to be happy.
- “How can you be so down? Just look at all you have to be happy about.”
- “Just focus on the positive. You’re dragging everyone down.”
Though these parents have good intentions, their statements might imply that if kids are not contented, they are somehow failing, or that happiness is the only feeling others are comfortable with. Children may respond to these messages by feigning a cheerful disposition and generally suppressing negative feelings to please parents. Unfortunately, suppressing feelings can compromise a child’s psychological well-being and fuel unhealthy behaviors.
Pain is a critical part of the human experience and in most cases, it is healthiest to confront it head on. Encourage children to acknowledge and accept emotions such as anger or hurt by using mindfulness meditation strategies. If your child seems overwhelmed by her emotions, encourage her to find a way to express them: talk to someone she trusts, write in a journal, create a work of art, or see a mental health therapist. Let us teach children that no one’s life is solely full of sunshine and that to live fully, we must stand in the occasional rainstorm.