Dealing with emotions-our own and those of our kids and partners-can be one of the more painful, frustrating, and ultimately fulfilling parts of being in a family.

After the groundbreaking classic bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman came out in 1995, the world came to the shocking realization that just being smart (having a high IQ) did not necessarily lead to success in work or in relationships.

Avoiding the Two Extremes

One of the most important factors in forming a happy, loving family is having the ability to express feelings openly and constructively, striking a balance between holding too much in and letting too much out. Problems arise in families who gravitate toward either end of this emotional spectrum.

The Problem with Not Enough Expression

At one extreme are the families in which no one ever gets to cry, express anger or share their anxieties. Feelings are stuffed down, tightly managed or ridiculed. The child loses touch with what she feels or wants, and depression or psychosomatic symptoms can be the result.

Perhaps one of the best metaphors for not letting feelings out is to think about the kitchen garbage. If you let a bunch of chicken bones and assorted trash sit around too long, the whole kitchen starts to stink. The same can be true for feelings. If they fester too long, they can become even stronger and more negative or bitter.

The Problem with Too Much Expression

At the opposite extreme are families where there is a loss of control of emotions or too much weight placed on their meaning or importance. Negative feelings in such families are typically expressed in a destructive fashion rather than resolved by good listening or channeled constructively.

Family members yell at one another, burst into tears on a regular basis, are highly reactive with one another, and often hurt one another in the name of “sharing”. They have bought into the myth that the more feelings you share, the closer your relationships will be. Not so.

Second only to good communication skills, parents need to teach kids how to deal with their feelings.

Footnote for adults: If you haven’t learned enough about dealing with emotions constructively, you might just want to sing along.

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Don and Debra MacMannis contributor

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