A Preface: Kids Suck at Emotions

The anxieties we feel as adults are not so different from the ones our children experience. Unknown pressures of the world are universal across gender, race, culture, intelligence, and age.

Adults are better equipped at handling them (sometimes) because our toolkits are bigger (again, sometimes). We have experience and communication to help us. We have support groups we can reach out to. We have emotional literacy and articulation.

And, yet, we still fail.

Our children, we often forget, have none of that. They are alone. Not because they are alone, but because they don’t know how not to be. They can’t communicate unless we teach them, and even then it’s a challenge. They can’t express their emotions constructively unless we teach them, and even then it’s confusing. The anxieties the little ones experience are very much alive and at work, though we may not see them or understand them or appreciate them.

So we must teach them from our experiences and our vulnerabilities.

Break Your Rules

I beg of you, do it.

Now hold on. Keep your feet on the gas but slow it down for a minute and I’ll explain.

A few years ago, after the whirlwind of Christmas, a never-ending fanfare celebrated four times over, with four different sets of friends, family, and loved ones, the girls were understandably fatigued. Exhausted, easily irritated, and crying at the smallest thing.

We laid them down for a nap around 2:00 PM. My wife was teaching Pilates from 2:30–3:30 PM so timing, on this rare occasion, worked out. I made my way down to the basement for a little R&R to give Lynnette the main floor of the house. Around 3:15 PM both girls woke from their naps with pitiful wails. I needed to keep the girls upstairs so Lynnette could finish her class (which shouldn’t have been too bad a deal since the playroom and bedroom are upstairs).

Using my calm stoic cool dad voice I was able to (mostly) quiet the crying. Cece was easily distracted with a puzzle and coloring. Gia, though, distraught and wet-eyed just wanted her Mama. I tried everything to calm her down but she was hovering that line of quiet whimper and dramatic sob.

Lynnette wrapped up her class and I made my way downstairs as the final goodbyes signaled my freedom. Gia melted into Lynnette’s arms but still maintained her sobby state. I, being the dad never to give up, decided on one final effort. I brought out some leftover stocking-stuffer chocolate and offered it up to the girls. Immediately Gia’s eyes perked up and a little giggle, like a ray of light, poked through her shadowy demeanor.

Were we tricked? Bamboozled? Was this some grand toddler coup?

It didn’t matter. We laughed. As a family.

2 pieces each,” we told them as Gia shoveled her second piece into her mouth and began unwrapping two more.

Smiles all around. Her exact words were: “Chocolate makes my tears away.”

Do we let the girls have candy first thing after their naps in the throws of dinner prep? No. Not a thing we like to do. It’s part of our unspoken rule book. Would I break that rule again to pull my child out of a funk?

Every time.

Be fluid, proactive, and responsive to them. A family is dynamic and, sometimes, rules need to be broken for the magic to flow.

Cheers, folks.

This article was originally published at Medium. Republished with permission from the author.