Here’s a fact. Humans are capable of a full spectrum of feelings. So when we avoid the less comfortable ones or minimize their importance, we in essence understand less of ourselves.
Babies exhibit mostly negative feelings, intuitively understanding that these are the ones that will get the attention they need. Not to distract us from attending to their needs, babies hold back on smiling for four or more weeks. And a cry is not a cry. Parents, in particular mothers, can identify the reason their baby is crying by subtle changes in pitch, intensity etc. almost from birth. Crying can be from physical reasons like hunger, pain or a wet diaper or from emotional reasons like loneliness and needing a hug.
When our baby smiles for the first time, we do everything we can, short of standing on our heads, to get them to smile again. This is the moment when many parents, unintentionally, begin to focus on positive displays of emotion in an effort to keep their baby happy. Now when their baby cries they will do things to make them smile, rather than focus directly on the crying. This change is subtle but important as it sets us on a path where we focus less on negative emotions and more on positive ones. Many might ask, “Why is this a problem?”
There is a generally held belief that when we focus on our child’s negative emotions, we encourage negativity and pessimism. This is simply not true. When we teach our child to accept and deal with a negative emotion we help them understand what they are feeling and why. Children (and adults) need this information to resolve problems and to learn how to deal with similar situations in their future. When children (and adults) identify their negative feelings, face them and deal with them, they will be able to put them aside and embrace their happier emotions. Ignoring, avoiding or minimizing negative feelings, gives them a power that they neither need nor deserve.
When we focus on all of our child’s feelings, we see them as whole, and they will learn to see themselves in this way too. Life provides us with challenges and adversity with high predictability. Our child’s ultimate success and happiness depends not on the challenges that she faces, but on how she faces them. When we teach our child to give negative emotions equal status to their positive counterparts, we raise their emotional intelligence and give them the tools to reach their full potential.