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17th Oct 2018

OPINION: It’s not OK to punish your child for being sad

Lorraine Lynch

What do you need the most when you’ve had a crap day?

Like, a really crap day? Like one of those days when you gag on your toothbrush, stick the mascara wand into your eyeball and stub your toe on the way to the kitchen… all before 8am.

Then, upon arrival at work, you’re called into the office for a mistake you made, you spill coffee on your white top and you’re pretty sure you caught someone talking poop about you earlier on. The day slowly descends down a spiral of missed opportunities, lateness and sheer frustration until you eventually arrive home… to find your family are being particularly annoying.

What do you need the most?

You need someone to mind you. You need someone to listen to every single detail of how your day was set against you from the moment you woke up this morning.

You might need to have a tearful moment but you definitely need a hug, a hot cup of tea and a blankie. You need sleep. You regress back to the years when Mammy made it all better by just being Mammy. You curl up into the foetal position and just want to close the curtains on the whole day, forget it ever happened, heal from the harsh wounds inflicted upon you by others, and be protected and supported by someone who cares implicitly, loves unconditionally and never judges.

And you’re a grown woman!

So why do you think a child needs anything different, when they need that and then some more?

Home is THE place to be honest, ratty and emotional because home is the place where you are loved in all your glory, no matter what.

So, why then do we think it’s acceptable for a child to sit on the “naughty-step” for arguing with everyone, for a teenager to “go to their room” for giving us cheek or for everyone to go to bed early without dessert?

When children are showing negative emotions, we immediately view it as having negative connotations. However, negative emotions are as valid and organic and natural and valued as positive emotions.

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The world is ying and yang – one does not work without the other. And similarly, when we experience these normal negative emotions, the way to help the PERSON is to meet these needs with “implacable courtesy”, a phrase often-cited by Miriam O’Callaghan, as coined from a conversation she had with critically-acclaimed poet Seamus Heaney. Now, I don’t know about you but, if Seamus Heaney and Miriam O’Callaghan are advocating for implacable courtesy, I’m on board.

This simply means that no matter what we are met with, we can diffuse any situation by being kind, understanding and in control of ourselves.

When teenagers become argumentative with parents, moms and dads often become defensive. Why? Because our fight-or-flight response is triggered – we sense a threat. However, when we think about this objectively, teenagers have millions of hormones racing through their bodies, they are developing at an astronomical rate, they are fast-approaching adulthood without an iota of how to manage it, and they are now living in a time that is defined by instant gratification, huge educational pressures, and really confusing messages from the media.

The emotions behind the argumentative talk are confusion, fatigue, helplessness, sadness and anxiety. Recognising this is key.

Secondly, you and I are FULLY in control of our behaviours. As a result, even though we may often be exasperated by the behaviours of others, we can decide to fight negative with negative, or negative with positive.

Understand that all negative emotions come from a place of sadness – even anger comes from sadness (think about it).

And listen. Just listen.

Offer your ear, your hug, your time, your patience. Think of the last time you felt like crap. How did you want to be treated? How would unconditional love have changed your responses and your mood?

And then be the person YOU needed. Unconditionally.

As a psychologist at Sugru Child Development and Contextual Play Therapy Services, Lorraine Lynch engages with families from all over Ireland, dealing with issues from prenatal woes to teen coping strategies. She employs the most up-to-date research to help parents promote holistic well-being in their home.

Follow Lorraine and her business partner, Arlene Naughten at Sugru on Facebook or Twitter @sugrutherapies or @lorrlyncher.