The Value of Negative Emotions
When I say that parents need to focus on happiness, I do not mean to say that negative emotions have no value or should be avoided altogether.
Let me explain.
The great value of negative emotions is that they narrow our attention, cognition and physiology toward dealing with the immediate problem or threat that caused these emotions.
In other words, negative emotions help us focus on a task that requires our immediate attention.
If we don't know this or can't effectively explain this to our children, there's a risk that the negative emotion, which by definition lasts a very short time, grows into a state. A state is persistent. I suspect that the psychological state of mild depression that is becoming more and more widespread among children is likely attributable to this lack of parental interference. In other words, not enough parents sit down their kids and explain this:
1. My dear child, you heard Person X say Y about you.
2. You experienced some strong negative emotions, including A, B and C (it's a good thing to help a child identify and label these emotions, just to have complete clarity about what they're experiencing).
3. These negative emotions are telling you to do the following:
THINK and/or ACT
Let me explain.
Most of the time, the thinking part involves asking yourself some questions.
- Is this criticism of me accurate? Is it fair? Is it true?
- What is the source?
- Is the source a part of the group of people whose opinions I take seriously (for example, my parents). By the way, discussing who's in the group of people whose opinions count is a part of a parent's job and needs to be done as soon as the child is old enough to have this discussion.
- Am I willing to do anything about this? If so, what's my action? If not, what's my behavior towards this person going forward?
The only way this discussion doesn't lead a child (or an adult) out of a negative emotion is if they are not explained the 3 ways in which we talk ourselves into helplessness.
I will cover it in the next blog.