I am an emotional adult. I am sensitive, and I feel incredibly strongly. I am at a point in my life where I am working to embrace this about myself, rather than stuff it down and hide it away. I know what it is to be the child made to feel like I need to “toughen up” or “suck it up.” I know how it feels to have people tell me that I am “Too Emotional, Too Sensitive.” I know how it feels to be afraid to be open about it because so often so many people roll their eyes and minimize those feelings, which leaves you feeling stupid, small, and not important. I know how damaging it can be for someone to always feel small, stupid, and inconsequential, so I am very aware of how I, and others, treat my own child who is also incredibly emotional and sensitive.
So often adults see children feeling stressed or emotional and roll their eyes and brush them off, saying, “what does a kid have to be stressed about?” But what these adults fail to consider is that even though the problems of a child are small in an adult world, they are huge in the child’s world. That fight with their best friend may not actually be the end of the world, but it feels that way. As adults we can see the other side. We have lived it and so we know that school and drama that comes with school doesn’t last forever. But for a third grader fighting with his very best friend, he feels like the world is ending. He feels lonely, and sad, and angry, and heartbroken. But he doesn’t know how to sort those feelings out, how to work them out and deal with them. He doesn’t know unless we teach him. And telling him to , “stop crying and toughen up!” isn’t teaching him anything other than we don’t really care how he feels, and that his feelings don’t really matter to us. If we don’t help him deal with it, he will eventually stop asking for help because we will have taught him that it’s not our problem, and he is on his own in this.
Children see and hear and absorb so much. They are learning how to be adults by watching and listening to us. When they come to us with their “little” big problems, it is up to us to walk them through it. Not to fix it for them, but to help them figure out how to fix it, or handle it, or deal with it. The way that we teach our children to deal with the heartache of that fight with his best friend, the stress of that spelling test, the grief and confusion of navigating a world with divorced parents, or even just the weeping that comes with exhaustion, will reverberate through their entire lives.
There is a small window of time you have to be a child, but the things learned during that childhood will last forever. They will impact them as adults, and will affect how they parent, what kind of spouse they are, how they treat their friends and coworkers, how they treat strangers on the street, and how they treat themselves.
My son is so sensitive. He feels, like myself, all the feelings all the time. He loves fiercely and he weeps passionately. He is kind, and sweet, and tender, and while the world may say that’s a bad thing and he needs to toughen up, I say the world is wrong. I say he was made this way for a reason, and he has so much to offer this broken world.
This world is full of the tough, the cold, and the hard. Why would we want to raise our children to be that way? And why are so many parents teaching their children, especially boys, that crying is for sissies, or showing your emotions is weak, or that having a tender heart is a bad thing? Being soft in this hard world isn’t weak. It’s incredibly brave.
If we don’t teach our children how to navigate these emotions and social conflicts when they are young and we are able to help, then they will be 25 years old and have no coping skills or defense mechanisms. They will be 45 years old and be cold and hard, and instead of facing their problems, they will be adults who stuff their problems down, and find other ways, most likely unhealthy ways, to cope. They will turn to drugs or alcohol or sex or something else as an outlet because they have spent all this time being shown and told that who they are is wrong and bad, and so they will live their whole lives feeling wrong in their own skin. It will be too much, and they will have to find some way to cope. And when not taught and shown how to do so in healthy and constructive ways, when you shut the door on them crying instead of holding them close and comforting them, that’s going to matter. That is going to affect them long term.
That’s not what I want for my child. I want him to embrace who is is. I want him to know that no matter what I love him, and I am here for him, and I will help him through anything, even if the world seems to be against him. I want him to learn how to cope, how to handle the fact that life is fair, because it isn’t. I don’t want to change his world for him, but I do want him to be prepared to live in this world. I want him to be comfortable in his skin, and with who he is as a person. To be kind, to love, to cope, to know when to stick and when to walk. He is a wonderful person. Why would I want to change that? Why would any of us want to change our children, when we can nurture who they are?
I don’t want my child to have to recover from his childhood.