I was raised in a household where children were never allowed to express anger. Not that all anger was forbidden or unexpressed — just children’s anger. A child’s anger was wrong — and bad. So I spent many years not admitting even to myself when I felt mad, and instead feeling sad and bad. And when I had children of my own, I wanted to teach them to know their emotions: to name them, acknowledge them and cope with them. Sort of like mindfulness for toddlers.
So I did a few things. I always told (and still tell) my kids clearly that I love them, every day if possible, even if it’s just a text now that my oldest is away at college. And when they did something that upset a member of the family, including me, I would say something like: “You did ___. That makes me sad. And mad. I am sad because (fill in the blank: you broke something I liked; you said something hurtful; you pushed your sister). I am mad because (fill in that blank: you know better; you hurt someone; what you did was wrong and here’s why).”
Then I would work with the child to address the situation: offer an explanation, clean up the mess, apologize to the sibling, take some time out to think about what just happened, reflect on why the kid did it, think of better ways to proceed next time. The idea was to model that we can be sad and mad, but those feelings don’t make us bad. It’s how we choose to respond to those feelings that can turn a situation bad.
I was reminded of this, reading another blogger’s eloquent post about Pagliacci, and anxiety and sadness, and how those can look like anger: Pagliacci Is In Town Tonight. I would add that not allowing yourself to feel mad can make you feel really, really sad. And THAT’S bad.
Illustration: Sad and Mad; found on thisisnthappiness.com