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hearing emotions

Thursday, 19 March, 2009 - 1:11 pm

Dear Parents:

I just spent a wonderful all-female weekend with 2,500 (!!) of my Chabad colleagues. As you may know, the goal of Chabad globally is to create havens to support each person’s journey towards a life of fulfillment. Although all 2,500 of us share this goal we each express it in the unique way that matches the particular needs and contexts of each of our respective communities.

Here in Somerset County, NJ, one of the many ways this goal takes form is in our preschool. If I had to condense our overarching goal of preschool into a single sentence it would be to encourage our children to value their thoughts and feelings and to use them to make active choices that will allow them to lead a fulfilling life. (Of course, imbuing children with knowledge of their world and guiding their skills-acquisition flows seamlessly from this attitude.)

Dr. Haim Ginott writes that an indicator of a quality teacher is one who “helps children recognize and respect their inner feelings. Above all, he is cautious not to confuse children about how they feel.”

Wow! “Above all, he is cautious not to confuse children about how they feel.” What does that mean? So often, when our children share with us their emotions – for example: I am angry! Or, I am scared – we come back with “You have nothing to be angry about,” or, “There is nothing to be afraid of.” Instead of helping the child work through his/her feelings, this attitude forces the child to stifle his/her emotion, filling him/her with confusion.

When a child is told, "There is nothing to be afraid of," his or her fear increases. Dr. Haim Ginott describes it this way: “The child gets thrice frightened: In addition to his original fear (1), he is now afraid to be afraid (2), and fearful that he will not be able to hide his fright (3). Fear does not vanish when banished. It does not disappear when its existence is not recognized. When a child is afraid, it is best to acknowledge his fear openly and with respect.”

This attitude applies to all emotions. How does a bashful child feel when she or he is advised, “don’t be shy,” or a child in pain is told, “there is nothing to cry about” or a child with a problem, “everyone has such problems,” or “there is nothing to worry about”?

Rather than deny their emotions we must encourage the child to explore them. Then – only then – can the child control it.

The other day I overheard a child say to his teacher, “But I want it now!” The child desperately wanted the toy that another child was using. He was old enough to understand that he must wait his turn; this “whine” was more about his not getting his desire immediately satiated. The teacher smiled at him, acknowledging his desire and said, “I do understand how much you want the toy. It is a fun toy to play with. Do you think you can hold on to that feeling for a little while? Do you think you can save it for a bit until your friend is finished playing with it?” The child gave the teacher the widest, brightest smile. “Yes!” he responded, “I think I can!”

When a child is sad/scared/angry/jealous or happy/proud/bubbly, we get right there with them. We allow the child to taste his or her feeling. Otherwise we risk turning our children into people who don’t really understand their own emotions. When children share their emotions with us, we thank the child for sharing, we rephrase their words so that the child sees that we understand what she or he said, and then we help them work through it. Not with quick fix responses, but by gently encouraging the child to find a solution. “That must really hurt. What do you think you can do about it?”

I have seen this work countless times!

With respect,


Please Note: 

·         I have been approached by some moms requesting a group in which we explore PARENTING AND EDUCATION together. I would love to put such a group together. If you want to be part of this, please send me an e-mail at Based on the feedback, we will choose a date and time.

·         Thanks to all who are contributing to our RECYCLING AREA. We continue to request these 6 items: Corks, bottle/container caps and lids, plastic bottles, specialty papers, tubes and rolls, egg cartons.

·         ENROLLMENT for camp, preschool and kindergarten is open. Please contact Linda at with any questions.

·         Every Tuesday morning, Chabad offers a TORAH CLASS FOR WOMEN. It is led by my husband, Rabbi Mendy. The group is studying the Book of Genesis, with a look at its practical and relevant lessons. Everyone is invited.

Comments on: hearing emotions

Curtis wrote...

What a great post. I think anger in our society in gnearel is not talked about or handled very productively much of the time. This is really helpful descriptions of the dynamics and value of anger, seperated from the often reflexive response of guilt.A recent experience I was at my wits end, sooooo frustrated with something my son was doing (can't remember what it was! although it seemed very important at the time). After describing my frustration, I left the room, went to my bedroom, stomped my feet around and grrrrr'd in frustration, as a last resort to prevent myself from yelling, which i knew wouldn't get us anywhere. He came to find me, suddenly open to talking about it, curious. I think dis-engaging from the power struggle we were having allowed both of us to be more curious and receptive to the other's perspective. We ended up having a good talk, laughing about how we had both just been so grumpy, with lots of hugs, and some sort of resolution to what we were battling about. Such a relief!

Eliane wrote...

Our future child will deiniftely be the first grandchild on DH's side, as he's an only child. Its also really likely that he/she will be the first grandchild on my side as well, because I only have one sister and she is in college (19) and hasn't yet had a serious boyfriend. But hey, I guess you never know.As for our friends, we will probably be the first as well. There are only a few other couples in my group of friends that are married, but they expressed waiting a while (we are 22/23). DH's friends....well they seem to be far from the serious relationship/marriage/babies point in their lives.We will start TTC this spring!