Parents: What Do You Feel?
Dealing with young children can stir up such intense feelings. What feelings get triggered in us as parents? Where do they come from? How do we deal with them? What feelings do toddlers in particular stir up?
The answer to this question is easy — all kinds of feelings! Love, nurturing, frustration, rage, exhaustion, joy, pride, and on and on.
If we think about the nine basic feelings, they are all there as we deal with our young children: interest, enjoyment, surprise, distress, anger, fear, shame, disgust, and dissmell.
The term “ambivalence” is a good one — simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action. We love them and hate them all at once — and that’s perfectly natural and okay!
Where Do These Feelings Come From?
The easy answer is that these feelings come from our interactions with our children — when they do or say something funny, or cute, or mean, and so on. These actions or words set off various feelings in us.
However, things are a bit more complicated. The actions or words of our children can stir up feelings from our own past. Hurtful words from a toddler may sound like what a sibling or parent said to us long ago. Or our children may remind us of ourselves, and we may then turn into an image of our own parents, doing to our children what was done to us.
How Do We Deal With These Feelings?
There are two helpful steps in dealing with the multitude of feelings our children stir up.
The first step is simply to be aware that our children can trigger all these feelings — and know that it’s natural and okay to have these various feelings. Some parents get scared when they find themselves enraged at their child— or hating their child. Just go back to the feelings: hate is defined as intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from excessive distress, fear, shame, or a sense of injury. In other words, hate is anger on steroids. Remember, you cannot help what you feel — these feelings are built-in biological responses. The trick is to be aware of and accepting of these feelings. Then you can have the presence of mind to think about how you want to respond to what has set off these feelings.
And the second step? Once we are aware of these feelings, how do we deal with the feelings and what has set them off? Obviously, the answer to this depends on what has transpired — has your child just accomplished something exciting? Or did she hit her younger sister? Or say something to you that hurt your feelings?
Step two involves words instead of action — unless of course you have to take action immediately to protect someone or some object from getting hurt. Words instead of actions — or “stop, look, and listen.” Count to three – or count to ten. Whatever works to help us as parents process what is happening and what feelings are involved. Certainly, one tries not to use physical punishment, for the reasons we discussed in What Babies Say Before They Can Talk.
What Feelings Do Toddlers In Particular Stir Up?
Toddlers can certainly elicit joy and excitement in their parents, as they can accomplish more and more. That’s the easy part.
However, toddlers are especially adept at eliciting distress, anger, and fear in their parents. How, and why?
Remember the major issues with toddlerhood. First, toddlers begin to use words, to talk. Often their words are quite primitive — “I no like you… I hate you!” These words express the feelings of distress and anger, i.e., they are sending an SOS signal — but because of the words, parents often forget to translate back to the feelings and the parents’ own distress and anger result.
Second, toddlers are becoming more self-aware. They say “no” a lot. They are finding and expressing what they like and who they are. For parents, this often elicits distress and anger. This development also elicits a form of distress in parents called sadness — the child is beginning to separate, and this can create a sense of loss in the parent.
Third, toddlers are becoming more mobile. They are out of sight more often. They can get into danger quickly. So the increased mobility can stir up fear as well as distress in us as parents. And, as you will recall, a lot of distress and fear can result in anger. In addition, the toddler’s mobility is another way of separating from the parents — and hence the feelings of distress and sadness and loss can accompany this mobility and separation.
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(Dr. Holinger with his family's
Tibetan Terrier Monroe.)
Dr. Holinger is the Dean of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and a founder of the Center for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy. He is a leading expert on infant and child development and child behavior.
Dr. Holinger is the author of the acclaimed book What Babies Say Before They Can Talk.
Quick Parenting Tip
From the father of a 4-year old boy: “Try giving yourself, the parent, a time out. I was in an altercation with my son, realized I was too angry, and I said: 'Dad is taking a time out.' My son loved it! It turned a charged situation into a playful one, which allowed us to talk about what had happened. I also gave myself a consequence, and he got a kick out of that too! Things have been much better since then, with lots of talking.”
Please send in your parenting tips for possible publication in upcoming issues. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Book of the Month
Charles Darwin: The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Great Britain: John Murray, 1872. Paul Ekman, editor, Third Edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
This stunning book integrates our emotional life with evolution. Paul Ekman’s Introduction and Afterword are brilliant, as he tells the story of the development of human emotions. Darwin’s work was the springboard which allowed Tomkins and his successors (Demos, Ekman, Izard, Nathanson, Panksepp) to carve out our current understanding of emotions.
Article of the Month
Winnicott, Donald W.:
"Hate in the Countertransference."
International Journal of Psychoanalysis 303, 1949.
Also in Winnicott’s Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis: Collected Papers, Brunner/Mazel, 1992, pages 194-203.
This remarkable article explores the ambivalent – positive and negative – feelings parents have toward their children and therapists toward their patients.
Fantasy Football Tips
of the Month
Don’t forget to monitor the waiver wire during the season. For instance, following injuries to Saints’ Colston and Lance Moore, Denarius Moore had a huge game. With Roscoe Parish out for the year, David Nelson is worth a look. And with Arian Foster struggling with injuries, keep your eyes on Ben Tate; similarly, McFadden’s backup in Oakland, Michael Bush, is worth watching.
Also, lesser known QB’s can emerge during the season, e.g., Henne,Campbell, Grossman, and Dalton.
Kids and Collecting:
Many children love to collect things, and sports cards are often a favorite. Tony Schaefer is a very highly-regarded Sports Card Dealer, and he writes: “The history of sports often reflects the history of society. Vintage cards can highlight the wildly different uniforms of the past.” Click here for Tony’s eBay store.