We can directly and indirectly teach our kids problematic patterns of dealing with difficult emotions. Often, we go for the indirect approach because, being real about our own anger and anxiety and hurts and frustrations is, well, a bit uncomfortable. It’s messy and confusing and, well, let’s just not go there.
Instead, we’d rather pretend we’re all okay, all the time. Or after we handle things badly, we just make a joke about it and move on. We mumble an “I’m sorry,” and “It’s okay,” and let shame and embarrassment win. But there really is a better way.
What’s Wrong with Stuffing?
Okay, maybe we need to back up and define our terms a little, first. Emotional stuffing is the opposite of healthy communication. Eventually, it causes a buildup of pressure resulting in an explosion of some sort, but in the meantime, it causes damage through distanced relationships and internal conflict that’s unhealthy. At its root, it’s a dishonest and insufficient way to deal with difficult emotions.
As Sheila Walsh puts it, “Some cats are very quiet right before they pounce! No, the kind of beauty that Christ wants to work in us comes from a peaceful place of surrender, not from [someone] who has learned to bite her tongue!”
Isn’t Self-Control a Good Thing?
Self-control is listed among the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23), so yes, it’s obviously a good thing! But controlling your anger is not all you can do. You have to unpack it, endeavoring to understand why the situation bothered you, then get to a place where you can calmly express your frustration in a self-controlled way.
The same is true with sadness. Trying not to cry at a friend’s wedding because your own engagement was recently cut off may be good, loving, and kind, but generally trying to avoid the emotional release that tears can bring is unwise. Living in denial that you were bothered at all about the breakup would be even worse. So exercising self-control isn’t necessarily the same as stuffing.
How Can You Oppose Stuffing?
For one thing, you can model positive communication by being open about your own emotions and calmly discuss your frustrations with your teen. Then, when you suspect that your teen is “stuffing,” you can offer leading questions or suggestions, such as, “I know you may not be able to talk about this right now, but it’s okay to cry, and I’m here if you need to process out loud.”
Depending on the situation, you may want to suggest ways they can express themselves to a teacher, friend, or sibling, or even function as a neutral third party, if needed. Praying together about hurts and fears and even anger can also be a way to help your teen open up to the One who always cares and can truly bear the burdens we often try to keep to ourselves.