NDSU Extension - Morton County


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January 11, 2021 But First, Acknowledge the Feelings

Vanessa Hoines, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness


Dates to Remember:


  • January 13: Winter Horse Management Webinar, Zoom, 12pm
  • January 13: BSC Ag Marketing Club, Zoom 7pm
  • January 14: NDSU Extension Ag Marketing, Zoom, 1pm
  • January 21: General Pesticide Training, Mandan, 6pm
  • January 23: Infant Message, Zoom, 10am
  • January 25: General Pesticide Training, Hebron, 12pm
  • January 27: Spark and Stitch Event, The Many Faces of Stress 7-8pm via Zoom
  • January 27: NDSU Extension/Morton County Advisory Council


But First, Acknowledge the Feelings

A popular saying on mugs, T-shirts and signs goes like this: “But first, coffee.”

Coffee drinkers understand. It’s a way to start the day, follow a comforting routine or just put off some task for a little bit longer.

Maybe we could produce some similar merchandise that would help with hurt and healing: a T-shirt, a toddler romper, a backpack, a graduation cake, a briefcase, a tool bag all printed with “But first, acknowledge my feelings.” It’s not as catchy as coffee, but it is true for all ages and stages of life. We are humans with a wide array of emotions.

Babies have no words to describe how they are feeling, so they let us know with big, toothless smiles when we walk in the room and, conversely, turning away, shutting down or crying loudly when too much noise or action is going on around them. Naturally, we calm the baby by acknowledging the feelings and providing calm and quiet.

When a toddler has a toy taken away by another curious child, the first child gets angry. Reasoning, teasing, distracting and cajoling will not work until someone acknowledges and validates the child’s feelings: “You feel upset/angry because you were not done playing with that toy.”

A school-age child’s parents divorce, and the sorrow cuts deeply. Acknowledging and validating the hurt is the first step to helping the child through the many emotions of a family separation.

Sometimes as adults we forget the embarrassment suffered by tweens over what we might consider pretty minor parenting errors, such as calling them by a nickname or giving reminders in front of friends. Nonetheless, strong feelings need to be heard even before the apologies are extended.

When a teen’s sport season, musical or theater performance or school event is modified or postponed, the teen may experience grief over lost opportunities or traditions. Acknowledge the disappointment first and then teach the resilience skills to help the budding adult learn to bounce back from the many times that expectations will be greater than the event can provide.

Adults who have just entered the workforce or those who have lost long-held careers may have feelings of bitterness, sorrow, worry and more, depending on the situation. Before giving advice about where to go for career counseling or who has job openings, or changing the topic, try listening without interruption and then acknowledging the feelings of this person.

This quote, credited to António R. Damásio, an American-Portuguese neuroscientist, confirms that information passes through our emotional brain into our thinking brain: “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”

When people have strong emotions at any age, just listen, then acknowledge and validate their feelings. It’s powerful and the first step in the process.

But first, feelings.

For more information to support your family go to https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/cff/children-parents-and-families-folder or call 667-3340.

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