I frequently talk with parents I work with about the power of allowing and truly accepting a child's emotions. Something "magical" often happens when children's emotions are welcomed and validated. No matter how many times I see this process unfold between children and adults, I am never not inspired and in awe of it!
I recently had a "magical" experience with my 4-year-old niece, Lucy, that I felt inspired to share. She and her 9-year-old sister, Seara, asked me to be the judge for their fashion show contest. They each dressed up three Barbies in the most fashionable outfits they could find and I had to decide who won each round. I initially felt hesitant about the fact that I had to chose one niece to be the winner, because I didn't want the other one to feel bad. Then I remembered that I'm capable of handling any reactions and feelings they show AND that I should practice what I preach to parents and be willing to accept whatever emotions they might feel.
So, I "judged" the fashion show with honesty and my true opinion. The oldest, Seara, made sure that I knew they wouldn't be mad at me if they lost and she asked her sister to agree, "Right, Lucy?" So when Lucy lost the first round she moved on to the next without flinching. As a side note, Lucy has experienced strong emotions many times in my presence and I've always done my best to acknowledge, allow, and accept them, even when I just want to make her feel all better. During the last couple of rounds, another family member joined us and verbalized to me-when the girls weren't around-that Lucy gets very upset when she doesn't win and even cries sometimes. I immediately thought, "Interesting that this didn't happen when she lost just a few minutes ago. I wonder how she'll respond if she doesn't win a second time with this particular person, who has a different expectation of her."
Well, Lucy did end up losing another round (after winning one, too) and she started to get upset and show some pouting behavior. Attempts by the other adult were made to "fix" the situation, and her sister told her not to be made at me. I said, "I'm okay if she's mad at me" and then I saw the "magic" happen...Lucy turned to me, her face lit up with a HUGE smile, and she happily pranced off to get her Barbies ready for the final round.
The power of accepting and loving someone regardless of their feelings or behaviors toward you is so simple, yet can be so difficult. Of course I didn't like seeing Lucy upset, especially because of a decision I made that affected her. I selfishly didn't want her to be mad at me, because I want my nieces to love me and think I'm great! But you know what, I think they love me even more because I'm honest with them, and respectful and accepting of every part of who they are, including their "negative" emotions. I'm so grateful for the respectful parenting approach that I've learned over the last few years, and my goal in the work that I do with families is to help them see how profoundly it can impact their relationship with their children for the best!