One of the books I read this past week was John Gottman and Nan Silver’s What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal. This book needs to be a graduate school requirement for every counseling student. The content focuses on couples, but the information covered can enhance any relationship and improve the skills of all counselors.
Don’t Judge the Emotions of Others
Gottman encourages his readers to avoid making judgments about the emotions of others. People, especially children, can’t choose which feeling they are experiencing. Our emotions are hardwired into us at a primal level and often arise without our consciousness or consent.
Avoid Invalidating or Dismissing the Emotions of Others
Dismissing emotions with comments such as ‘“There’s no reason to cry,” or “Cheer up”’ are ineffective. Gottman suggests that instead of trying to fix or change the emotions of others, we try to connect with them and say something like, “Please help me understand what those tears are all about.” I found this section particularly important in my own life because I have told my daughter, “There’s no reason to cry” countless times.
I suppose I could take solace in the fact that I’m not the only one who has made this mistake as I’ve overheard other mothers recite similar lines to their children, but I have to admit that it still hurts that I would miss such a blatant bid for connection.
Seek to Understand
I had assumed that my daughter was afraid she was in trouble, and to alleviate that fear, I told her she didn’t have a reason to cry. Instead of attuning to her needs, I dismissed them outright. Gottman’s research found that “The most common needs people express are: wanting to feel listened to, understood, complimented, desired, and comforted.” By asking our kids to help us understand why they are crying, we are better able to connect with them and empathize with their experience.
Now I see my error, and once you know better, you can do better.