Every parent is familiar with the frustration and helplessness that arise when kids have an emotional meltdown. No one is immune to that sometimes overwhelming feeling, not even Drew Barrymore, as she shared on a recent episode of her Drew Barrymore Show. In conversation with psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Aliza Pressman about her new book, The Five Principles of Parenting, Barrymore explained how Pressman’s advice had radically changed how she parents her daughters Olive, 11, and Frankie, 9.
“I had my daughter Olive, who Aliza knows, she was going through a phase, this was years ago, where when she would get upset, I would try to go to her, and I would try to make it better,” Barrymore shared.
“That was the last thing she needed or wanted. I didn’t understand it — she would either run away or come back at me. But either way was, like, the two extremes of no-goodness and Aliza taught me to regulate myself, which again was like, OK. You said walk in the room and just say, ‘I understand we’re having a moment.’ “
And then rather than continuing to engage her daughter while in an elevated state, Barrymore — following Pressman’s advice — would simply stand outside of the door, take a deep breath, and assure Olive that she was there, just on the other side of the door, if and when she was ready to talk.
“I think we get so scared of the big feelings that we want to fix them. And we’re chasing them,” said Pressman.
“Yes! I was literally chasing her,” Barrymore agreed.
“And the message is like, ‘We are afraid of feelings.’ And feelings aren’t dangerous,” Pressman continued. “Being able to regulate ourselves as the adults and say, ‘OK, I’m not being chased by a bear. My daughter’s not being chased by a bear.’ Meaning, it’s not an emergency. It’s a feeling.”
The impulse to rescue kids in the face of discomfort or unhappiness is an inevitable aspect of parenting, but giving into it is both a common parenting mistake and a hallmark of helicopter parenting. Though the underlying intentions are good, swooping in can become a form of emotional overprotectiveness that can actually stymie development, causing kids to develop anti-social behavior and struggle in school, Fatherly has previously reported.
“It makes sense that you would want to make sure that your child is happy,” Pressman told Barrymore. “But we need our kids to know how to dress for the weather and not try to control the weather because we can’t. So, better they understand how to have the feelings and that they are survivable and that we are not shaken.”
Happiness expert Arthur Brooks put his own spin on the idea recently in an appearance on Today With Hoda & Jenna.
“One of the things that I see is that parents are too freaked out about their kids being unhappy,” Brooks said. “They’re freaked out about it. A lot of helicopter parenting is because they’re thinking about their kid’s feelings all the time, and they’re trying to wipe out the bad feelings, and that’s a mistake. Your kid needs to be alive. Your kid needs to learn; your kid needs to grow. You want your child to live a full life of happier-ness.”
Loads of other research backs up Barrymore’s positive experiences with focusing first on self-regulation when a child is upset. One recent study covered by Fatherly found that emotional intelligence — the ability to manage your emotions and understand the emotions of people around you — is the absolute foundation for a healthy parenting style.
“Parents with a high level of emotional intelligence demonstrate a high level of parental competence as a result of the specific emotional intelligence strategies they use in the parenting process,” the study authors wrote. “The high level of emotional intelligence of parents is associated with the adoption of the authoritative parenting style that is in agreement with specific elements of this intelligence.”
In short, a balance of self-esteem and self-compassion is required for parents to develop a healthy toolbox of parenting skills. Hand in hand, those traits allow parents to gain confidence from positive experiences without judging themselves too harshly when things take a turn for the worse.
As Barrymore and countless other parents are well aware, a kid stomping up to their room and slamming the door is a sign that they’re not in a mental or emotional state to have a rational conversation. While such behavior cannot be overlooked, it’s important to fight the urge to fix the situation immediately, and better to wait until all parties involved have regained their emotional composure before trying to get back on course.
To watch the full clip of the Drew Barrymore Show, click here.