I write a lot about punitive parenting, and why I believe that it is wrong for parents to try to control their children through fear of punishments. It goes against my core beliefs about theology (I follow Christ because I love Him, not because I am afraid of Hell), as well as my beliefs on parenting (which, as you have probably noticed, are very much enmeshed in my faith--all of life is spiritual). I rarely write about the flip side of that, but I believe that it is just as damaging for parents to try to please their children out of fear.
One of my favorite sayings from Crystal Lutton is that "Happiness is not the only acceptable emotion". Yet so many of us have grown up with a fear of any emotion that isn't happy that we don't quite know what to do when our children express anger, frustration and sadness. I think that is part of the reason that temper tantrums are such a big deal for parents. We just want them to go away because of our own discomfort with such an intense expression of feeling. Instead, what we need to do is learn healthy ways to express (not squash) our big emotions and teach them to our children.
Figuring out boundaries is a tough job for little people--and often, for big ones! It is OK for your toddler to cry because she wants a toy that another child is playing with--she is not "bad" for being upset at having to wait. Of course, the answer is not snatching the toy away from the other child, either. Instead, it is an opportunity to give her words she can use to ask for a turn, or perhaps to offer another toy to trade or a way to play together. If the owner prefers to continue playing, then you can help her find acceptable ways to express her feelings about that.
Boundaries are not always fun, even when they are healthy. We can be firm without blaming, shaming or dramatizing. We do not need to add to an already painful situation by blaming our children or other people, pointing out "shoulds", or scolding. We also need to be careful not to make it into a bigger deal than it really is. I once saw a mother scream at and scold a tree when her preschooler bumped into it. It was kind of funny, but also kind of sad. The tree did not jump out and attack the kiddo. A simple kiss and hug without framing her child as a victim would have made a lot more sense to me.
Another important point is that we cannot always "fix" things, and we should not always try. A broken toy may need to be mourned. Instantly jumping in with promises to replace it may not be what our child needs. Perhaps they just want to express their feelings about it and move on. I am not saying that we should refuse to help our children when they have a problem, by any means, but I am suggesting that we carefully ascertain whether our children need listening and validation, coaching on how to deal with it or simply the freedom to cope and problem-solve themselves. Most of us need a case-by-case and even moment-by-moment approach.
I have found that one of the most important tools for me is Naomi Aldort's SALVE formula. It is amazing at helping me manage my own feelings and helping my children process theirs. I don't link videos often, because I greatly prefer text links, but this one is worth watching, really. It is just over 5 minutes, and it is just her speaking, but it has been incredibly helpful for me. Becky Bailey and Aletha Solter have some helpful resources, as well.
I have made it clear that I believe we should always respond with compassion to our children's distress. But compassion can also be a kind embrace and empathy while still holding firm to boundaries. We cannot make other people happy, and it is not healthy to try. If we are operating out of fear of their displeasure, we are not modeling a healthy relationship. Do you want your children to learn that love means a constant effort to placate someone else's whims? That is a set up for abuse.
Whether it is teaching them to fear our displeasure, or acting out of fear of their unhappiness, both are really two sides of the same coin. It is modeling to them that love means taking responsibility for another person's feelings. That is not healthy. Yes, we are to be kind, compassionate and sympathetic to others. However, their emotions belong to them, and ultimately their happiness cannot rest entirely on our efforts. They are strong enough and powerful enough to cope with disappointment, anger and sadness, especially if someone they love is with them to comfort along the way.
Fear is not a good place to parent from, either our fear or our children's. I don't want my children to learn from my example that they must strive to please others, even when it is not healthy. I want them to walk in the love and freedom of good boundaries, and to be able to be authentic and compassionate without crippling themselves and others by a compulsion to please.
"...Perfect love casts out fear." ~ I John 4:18