We need to teach them to “accept feelings, limit actions.”
It’s a common mistake to think that accepting feelings means accepting the actions that may result from those feelings, which leads to children who are rebellious, disrespectful, and/or spoiled.
These ideas led author Rebecca Eanes, founder of Positive Parenting, to come up with a very simple phrase that parents can easily remember: “accept feelings, limit actions.”
Distinguishing feelings from actions
Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they simply are what they are. We feel what we feel. However, what we do with those feelings is extremely important, and this is the key to raising our children with emotional intelligence so that they will understand their responsibility for their actions.
It’s not just about understanding and accepting their feelings, but also about teaching our children how to react appropriately to those feelings. If we accept our children’s every reaction as correct, we won’t be teaching them how to handle their feelings during difficult moments or how to respond to others when they feel emotionally overwhelmed.
In the past, it was very common to reject feelings in order to try to correct inappropriate behavior. People would use phrases like, “You shouldn’t get angry about that,” or “You don’t have any reason to be sad.” Parents thought that if they could train their children’s emotions, they could also correct their behavior. This ended up making children insecure and lacking in emotional intelligence, since on the one hand they were unable to stop feeling what they were feeling, and on the other, they didn’t learn to control their behavior.
At the other extreme, there arose the theory that we had to accept all our children’s emotions and reactions in order to respect their natural self-expression. Consequently, parents were afraid to teach their children to control inappropriate behavior. As a result, we ended up with children who thought that any and all behavior was acceptable, if it was sincerely felt, including behavior that had a negative effect on others.
When we accept emotions and limit actions, we teach our children that their feelings are a normal human experience, but that they’re also responsible for how their actions affect themselves and those around them.
This guideline helps us not only in raising our children, but it can also be applied in many aspects of our own lives. Our relationships, above all with our spouses, can benefit greatly if we understand that our emotions don’t give us a blank check to engage in just any kind of behavior. We are the ones who, with our force of will, have the ability to direct our lives and our actions.
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