Question: Dear Luise: I had a bad childhood which includes drug addicted parents that never gave me any emotional support or the time of day and even sexual abuse from family friends and even family members. I have come to realize that even with your family out of your life that I still have a few bad things that I have picked up from them like being able to express my emotions or communicate. I would like to know what can I do with my daughter to teach both of us how to communicate and express our emotions with each other. I want her to be able to come to me for anything even with her mistakes. How can I change the fear that she has inside of her to know that she is able to come to me. K.
Answer: Dear K.: I sometimes think that what you are speaking about is the single most important contribution a parent can make to a child…(beyond food and shelter, of course.) Being heard, being understood and feeling safe to share anything is priceless for anyone, and especially for a child. You’re right; you have to lay the groundwork, early-on, for it to be in place and functioning well when it’s needed and the way to do that is through consistent example.
I could tell my mother anything…and I did. I sometimes think that’s why I never got into trouble. I was an adventurous and to some extent rebellious child but she always gave a whole lot of room. In high school, when most kids started getting curious and were into experimenting, I was able to by-pass a great deal that might have been hazardous because I was able to talk about it with my mom.
Of course some of us are more comfortable communicating than others. That’s why I have my web site; I love interacting with others. However, there are also those who naturally want to keep their own counsel. So, like adults, there are kids who have a tell-all streak and there are those that are more private. Be as sensitive as you can to your daughter’s natural instincts
What I would suggest is to make up a game with your daughter of listing feelings. I have seen lists that are almost endless. Then see if you can take turns with examples, either your own or made up, of how those feelings might be experienced. Be sure there are a lot of positive feelings in the mix! Have fun like, “I felt really silly when I looked in the mirror and saw I had three heads.” You can help her a great deal if you guide her gently into expressing herself while you are learning, too.
Then, in her day-to-day life it will give you an opening. When you see her struggling with something, you can say something like, “It looks to me like you are having some strong feelings. Let’s take some time to see if we can figure out what’s going. OK?”
I have often read that our hardest lessons can be our greatest teachers. Look how you are using the pain of your childhood to become an outstanding adult. I commend you. Blessings, Luise