Not long ago, I had two teacher figures say that my son was “emotionally immature.” Now any one who knows me or reads this blog could surmise that I am passionate about emotional intelligence, especially helping children to cope with emotions. Honestly, these complaints were very hard for me to swallow on many levels.

I, as respectfully as possible, accepted and validated their comments because of course he is emotionally immature: he’s six years old. I felt defensive, shocked and angered. I just wanted rip my son away from these people who I had entrusted to care for him. I even home-educate my son because most affordable school environments in my opinion are emotionally neglectful and abusive.

I internally chewed long and hard on their statements. I really had to grieve this situation. I typically blame my self when ever negative situations occur and worried intensely if I had messed up somewhere… I felt guilty for adding stress to the teachers; Was I crazy for teaching him to question authority and share his feelings? From their point of view and context, I could see where they were coming from yet it sickened me that this is the mind frame of most. I want to just shine a bight light on the world.

You see society thinks that one is emotionally mature because they handle their emotions. This is true to a degree, but one needs to have opportunities to express their emotions in order to learn how to handle their emotions in various settings and relationships.  There is a learning curve for every new dynamic or experience.

It seems we give kids till they are about one to three years old to work this out, then we demand they listen and obey us without whining or tantrums. Sadly, what many think as emotionally mature child is one who is appearing obedient under the guise of actually feeling fear and freezing (like in fight, flight or freeze mode). They don’t know what to do but have learned that more negative energy will be directed at them if they don’t just stop.  Eventually this leads to suppressing emotions and even dissociating when triggered in stressful environments. (There are uglier paths but I won’t dig there.)

Here’s is one my favorite quotes about emotional development and children:

“What is a normal child like? Does he just eat and grow and smile sweetly? No, that is not what he is like. The normal child, if he has confidence in mother and father, pulls out all stops. In the course of time he tries out his power to disrupt, to destroy, to frighten, to wear down, to waste, to wrangle, and to appropraite…At the start he absolutely needs to live in a circle of love and strength (with consequent tolerance) if he is not to be fearful of his own thoughts and his images to make progress in his emotional development.”

-Donald W. Winnecott, The Child, The Family, and the Outside World

Now, back to my sweet, sensitive son… Any one who knows him well has seen his empathetic, kind, and resilient nature as well as his ability to regulate himself . He started initiating group hugs when he was two and doing the meditative “ummmm” when he was in pre-school. He made a dragon from legos to guard his baby sister’s ashes and deeply mourned the loss of his great-grandma. When I am stressed, he echoes the words of the sage in me. He’s my buddha boy, and this is just a quick snapshot of the gracious qualities he shines upon me.

Currently, he is overwhelmed with contradictory messages. He now complains to me about how come other kids can just hit other kids and their siblings. I tell him that they are not supposed to and still in the process of learning to control their emotions and behaviors. That their brain gets flooded and they can’t get to those loving files. I validate that it is confusing and may seem unfair yet stress he has learned a special skill and can control himself even when he feels so angry.

He has also been asking why he cries so much but no one else seems to cry. He agonizes about what’s wrong with him and feels stupid that he cries so easily. I validate his pain yet stress that he cries because  he has a big heart: he cares so much about what people think of him and the quality of work he produces. That although he appears weak and dramatic by society’s expectations for “normal boy” behavior, he is indeed strong, brave, spirited and willful. Sadly, with so few kids to empathize with him, he is starting to wish he didn’t care so much.

The biggest kick in the shorts for me is that when a kid or even an adult for that matter is being emotional, that is actually a sign of trust; that they feel some what safe to process their hard feelings with you. These emotional outbursts are opportunities for connection and growth yet we as listeners can’t even handle the feelings. We feel too uncomfortable and just want to contain them as quickly as possible. Teachers fear they are disturbing learning environment in stead of seeing it as an intense learning experience. Even with my successful experiences of utilizing intense emotions, I still get triggered with fear and just want to stop the discomfort and run away. It is also hard to hug an angry child especially when the child in you just wants to fight back.

Now next time a child is giving you grief, take a deep breath and give them the gift of your attention, a warm embrace, a shoulder to cry on, and listen. You don’t even need to think of things to say just be still then reflect back what you are hearing them say.

‎”When children feel understood, their loneliness and hurt diminish. When children are understood, their love for their parent is deepened. A parent’s sympathy serves as emotional first aid for bruised feelings. When we genuinely acknowledge a child’s plight and voice her disappointment, she often gathers the strength to face reality.” ~Haim Ginott