Sometimes, when we talk to our kids, we use phrases that can make them feel responsible for the emotions of adults. In this article, I explain which phrases and what problems there are in using them.
Do these phrases sound familiar to you?
You’ve told your daughter three times to pick up the toy she was playing with and left on the dining room floor, and each time, she didn’t answer or even listen. On the fourth time, you say something like, I’ve told you several times to pick up the toy, you’re making me angry!
Guests have come over for dinner, and your child doesn’t want to sit next to one of them, and the guest says, You don’t want to sit next to me? Oh, you’re making me sad.
You’re trying to do something, and the kids are running around and shouting, and they’re not listening when you tell them to calm down, and eventually you say, Can you stop? You’re making me nervous!
Or some day when you’re playing really well with the kids, you might say, I’m happy when you’re happy.
What’s the problem with these phrases? Well, if you pay attention, these phrases create a direct relationship between the actions of the children and the emotions of the parents or adults. The child is responsible for making their parents angry because they didn’t pick up their toys,. The child is responsible for making a guest sad because they didn’t want to sit next to them. The child is responsible for making their father nervous or the child is responsible for making their mother happy.
Phrases like these end up making children responsible for the emotions of adults. What a heavy burden for a child, don’t you think?
Everyone is responsible for their own emotions.
When my children don’t answer me, I feel frustrated. Sometimes I even get angry because I repeat something to them several times, they look at me, and continue playing as if nothing happened.
But it’s important to realize that on the one hand, the child is having a great time, is distracted, absorbed in the game or situation, and their mind is not thinking, I’m going to ignore what my parents say and not answer. It’s happened to me several times when I raise my voice to get their attention and they react with, What happened? Did you say anything?
And on the other hand, it’s me who has a preconceived idea in my mind of what should happen, what we should do, how they should answer or react. And if that idea is not fulfilled, it generates discomfort and frustration for me. Let me explain it a litter bit better:
For example, in my head I think children should pick up their toys when I ask them to. If they don’t listen, I get frustrated and maybe even angry.
We’re running late for school and the children are calmly looking for a toy to take with them on the way. I get stressed because I want to arrive on time and I see that if we continue like this, we won’t make it.
In all these situations, I am responsible for what I feel and how I act, not others. And when I realize and accept it, I start thinking constructively:
When they don’t listen to me, I approach them, touch their arm to get their attention, ask them to look at me for a moment, and when I have their full attention and make sure they are listening, then I can say something like: I see that you’re having a lot of fun playing, but now it’s time for dinner and we need to pick up everything you left in the dining room. After dinner, or tomorrow you can continue playing.
When we’re running late for school, I have to accept that yes, we will be late, but I can look for some game to walk faster to school. And the next day, maybe get up 5 minutes earlier, or not get distracted when we’re all having breakfast, and start the routine of leaving a little earlier.
Why am I explaining all this? Well, because I think it’s important to be aware that we are the only ones responsible for our emotions and how we act on them. This way, we won’t blame our children, and we can also teach them that they are responsible for their emotions.
Why is it important to teach children that they are responsible for their own emotions?
Phrases like you’re making me angry can make a child feel responsible for the happiness or emotions of adults, which can put a lot of pressure on the child.
If they see their parent sad or angry, they may think, I did something to make them feel that way. But who knows if their parent is feeling that way because of something unrelated to the child, or as often happens, it’s because many things combined. But children can end up feeling guilty and responsible for the emotions of adults.
This can also cause children to be more sensitive to manipulation or emotional blackmail: for example, doing something they’ve been asked to do to make the others happy, whether they be adults, schoolmates, cousins, etc.
But it’s not just that; if they’re sad or angry, they also delegate the responsibility for causing those emotions to someone else. They believe that someone else has caused their emotions, and therefore, they expect someone else to fix them.
Teaching our children that they are responsible for their own emotions and actions gives them control over and teaches how to manage them. We need to teach them that all emotions are natural, and that sometimes they don’t have control over what they feel, but they do have control over how they act.
How can we respond to these situations?
One of the things that helps me when I read about any topic is examples of how to apply what I just read. They help me think about situations where I can do things differently, where I can improve. But also the opposite: they make it easier for me to remember what I’ve read when I’m in these situations and how to act.
Here are some examples:
We can express our feelings, but do so from the perspective of our responsibility, not blaming others.
I am sad because I had a bad day at work, but I know it will pass.
I am sad because I didn’t get what I wanted, but I need to accept the situation and look for other options.
I am experiencing a lot of frustration right now, but it has nothing to do with you. It’s just something that’s happening within me, and I’m managing it.
Teach our children that emotions are neither good nor bad, they are natural.
It’s normal to feel sad or angry sometimes. It’s a normal part of life, and we can learn to manage these emotions.
Feeling sadness or anger is not bad, it’s just means that something is affecting us.
Don’t worry about feeling nervous or scared, it’s normal, and we all feel it sometimes.
Teach our children that sometimes we can’t control our emotions, but we are responsible for our actions.
I understand that you are angry, but hitting your sister is not okay.
Sometimes emotions can be very intense and difficult to control, but we can always decide how to react to these emotions.
It’s normal to feel frustrated or sad, but it’s important not to let these emotions take over and think before we react.
If you have any useful phrases that can help children take responsibility for their emotions and learn to manage them, please add them to the comments so we can include them here too. Thank you!
In summary, it’s important for children to understand that they are not responsible for their parents’ happiness. Happiness is an individual responsibility, and we shouldn’t burden other people, especially our children, with it. It’s important for children to learn to take charge of their own happiness and to be allowed to make decisions and express their emotions. This not only makes them happier, but it also helps them develop social and emotional skills that will be very useful for them in the future.
Marina Mele has experience in artificial intelligence implementation and has led tech teams for over a decade. On her personal blog (marinamele.com), she writes about personal growth, family values, AI, and other topics she’s passionate about. Marina also publishes a weekly AI newsletter featuring the latest advancements and innovations in the field (marinamele.substack.com)