Feelings are not right or wrong, they just are

Tips to help young people navigate their feelings.

Without realizing it, adults often try to control the feelings young people have. We say things like, “Don’t worry about it,” “You shouldn’t be sad” and “Cheer up!” We feel uncomfortable seeing young people struggle or feel hurt and we try to fix it by talking them out of the feeling. Adults can falsely believe children have it easy and therefore should be happy all the time. Unfortunately, this way of thinking and reacting can cause harm.

By trying to encourage a youth to feel differently, we start to teach them that some feelings are good and others are bad, and in turn this can sometimes lead a young person to think there is something wrong if they have “bad” feelings.

The next time you find yourself saying something that minimizes a young person’s feelings, try one of the following.

  • Listen and reflect. Listen for the feeling rather than focus on the details of the story. When we focus on getting every detail, we distance ourselves from the feelings involved. Once you hear the feeling, see if you are correct. “It sounds like you are upset. Is that how you would describe it?” Allow the young person time to clarify.
  • Empathize. Put yourself in the young person’s place and think of how you would feel if you were in their shoes. Share that feeling with them. “Wow—if that happened to me, I would feel pretty sad.”
  • Ask questions. Let go of the idea that adults should have all the answers. Instead, ask the young person how they are feeling and why. Ask what they need.
  • Teach and model coping skills. When young people feel big emotions such as scared, worried, sad, mad, etc., they may not know what to do. Make some suggestions of healthy ways to work through emotions. This might involve a physical activity, some time alone, crafting, journaling or anything that allows the young person to step away and process.

Michigan State University Extension believes social and emotional health are important factors in a child’s success. Helping a young person identify and process feelings is a step towards improved emotional health.

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