To do this--if you notice that your son or your daughter is bewildered, sore or disgruntled--open it up--don't pass it over. Watch carefully. Listen attentively. Try to see how your youngster feels. And say what you observe aloud in order to communicate that you are acceptant and willing to have him bring out more of his feelings.
"You look bothered, Sis!" Or "I know, Bud, this surely must make you mad!"
Try to GET THE FEEL OF WHAT HE'S FEELING and try to MIRROR HIS FEELINGS WITH YOUR WORDS.
You may need to introduce your new policy with a newsflash. "I've got some sense at last about this business of feelings. I read a book which explained that it only makes matters worse to hold feelings in. So let's start a new program. If you feel mad, you tell me . . ."
"And if you're mad?"
"I'll tell you, too."
"That's not new."
"No. But from your side it will be. We've never before tolerated your griping. We've sat on you. Remember? We've said, 'Look here, you don't appreciate how good you have it.' Or we've told you that you shouldn't complain. Or we've scolded, 'You shouldn't talk that way to your mother.' Or we've insisted, 'You don't really feel that way,' when you actually did.
"But now we know better. And we've a hunch that after you've brought out your grievances for a while in big doses, you won't need to get mad as often or as much. Anyway, let's give it a try."
Sometimes no matter what we do, it doesn't help. No matter how many "horrible" feelings we listen to, a child's problems go on. There are a number of reasons for this. Chief among these is the fact that he may be "spilling" about the feelings that HIDE his true feelings and NOT about the real feelings that are troubling him. Mona, for instance, weeps and complains that she feels so shy; that she doesn't dare talk to anybody; that everyone knows so much more than she, and that they don't like her. What is actually bothering her, however, is the anger against a more brilliant sister which she is covering up. Her timidity is a denial of how she really feels.
As parents (or teachers) we cannot and should not prod for these undercover feelings. We can only give opportunity to let come what comes.
Sometimes as we remain acceptant the child of his own accord moves on and brings out more of the hidden feelings. Sometimes, if there are problems that keep on disturbing him and us--we are wise to seek professional help, realizing that the trained person is better equipped to get at the undercover, hidden feelings which are causing the problems to go on.
In any case it may happen when you start to mirror "mean" feelings that your youngster very positively denies what you say. "No," he may avow with a mean look in his eye, "I don't feel mean at all." Or, instead of frank denial, he may put on a saintly, I'm-better-than-you sort of air.
Many times this is no more than a passing defense against admitting feelings he has long believed he had to deny. If it happens, don't be insistent! Don't push him to admit these particular feelings at this particular time. But persist in showing your acceptance of them as other occasions arise.