Christian Parenting Articles    

Boy Displaying Different Emotions
What had happened, had happened. You can't do anything about it.

But you can do something about the things that have not happened.
Nav by Category

Parent-to-Parent

Parent-to-Work


Contact Alan

Feelings, Empathy & Decision Making
Dec 1997 Alan S.L. Wong

Feelings, Empathy & Decision Making

What is an emotion? Emotion is usually considered to be a feeling about or reaction to certain important events or thoughts. Feelings can be either pleasant or unpleasant.

Many of us are familiar with the train diagram (in the "Four Spiritual Laws" booklet) to illustrate the principle "Do not depend on feelings."
Engine-Fuel Car-Passenger Car
The engine is fact (God and His Word) and the fuel car is our faith. We should place our trust (the fuel) in God and His Word (the engine). The passenger car is feeling. It would be foolish to place our trust (fuel) in our feelings (the passenger car) ... the train will not run! In the same way, we should not depend on feelings or emotions.

Moreover, feelings are undependable. The same event may generate different feelings in different people; how then should we interpret the event and the feelings that follow? Even the same feelings can mean different things to different people.

Some have misunderstood "do not depend on feelings" to mean "deny your feelings." There is nothing wrong with feelings per se. Emotions filled the Psalms. Jesus wept (John 11:35-36). Eph. 4:26 acknowledges anger as a valid emotion; it doesn't say, "Don't be angry because anger is a sin." The issue is what you do when you are angry. When an argument between my boys gets heated up, I told them, "I understand that you are angry but you cannot show your anger by hitting or name-calling." We can be human and Christian at the same time.


The above is an excerpt of "A Conversation with God" which I wrote in 1978.

In Matt. 26:38-39, Jesus gave us an excellent example of acknowledging His feelings when He said, "Remove this cup from Me." This was Jesus' honest request not to go through with the crucifixion. Jesus knew that He was facing not only the agony of crucifixion but also the trauma of taking on the sins of the world (upon His sinless self) and being separated from the Father. At the same time, Jesus did not deny the Father. He said, "Thy will be done ..." (Matt. 26:42).

John R.W. Stott wrote on page 120 of The Contemporary Christian,


People are sometimes not fully aware of their own emotions. How can we parents help our children to acknowledge their feelings and control their behaviour?

  1. Teach them "feeling words" (e.g., happy, sad, bored, angry, hurting, frustrated).

    A good way to verbalize feelings is to say "I feel _______ (emotion) because _______ (reason)."

    A child who is in touch with his own emotions and struggles can better take the other perspective to empathize with others (c.f. Heb. 4:15-16). Developing emphatic reactions to other people's feelings contributes to morality in that when a child feels someone's joys and pain, he winds up feeling good when he makes them feel good and feeling bad when he hurts them.

  2. Allow our children to express their feelings in acceptable ways.

    When a child is frustrated, it is natural to cry. To command him to stop crying is to deny his humanity. We can acknowledge the child's feelings by saying, "I understand that you are _______ (emotion) because _______ (reason)." Depending on the nature of the problem, you may want to be supportive and encouraging or be firm to get the child to change his behaviour. We will talk more about "situational parenting" in another article.

    How do I know whether my child is emotionally mature? There are no firm standards of emotional maturity such as there are for physical development. "Balance" is a key word. If your child is able to take control of his feelings then he is doing fine. Emotional maturity comes with the passage of time and is based on experience in handling setbacks in life.

  3. Suggest what to do about the situation that has upset them.

    Children can be motivated by reason. But like us, children are also subject to passions, desires and other emotions that can motivate them strongly and sometimes in the opposite direction.

    One morning, my son woke up and started to throw a tantrum. He blamed his mother for not waking him up earlier and now he has no time to finish his homework. Hui Meng told him firmly that he had ample time to finish it the night before but he procrastinated until he fell asleep ... it is his fault that he didn't finish his homework.

    I told him to start working on it instead of making a fuss and wasting time. But he cried, "Then I won't have time to pack my bag!" He kept on crying and blaming his mother. I told him that if he went on this way, he would miss his school bus. What had happened, had happened. You can't do anything about it but you can do something about the things that have not happened (c.f. Phil. 4:13-14). Quickly start on your homework, finish it then pack your bag. But he continued crying.

    I told him clearly that if he missed his school bus, I'm not bringing him to school and I'm not writing a letter to his teacher. He had to explain to his teacher why he wasn't in school. To cut the story short, he did not do his homework or pack his bag. However, he managed to catch the school bus.

    A few days later, a similar episode erupted. I reminded him, "What had happened, had happened. You can't do anything about it. But you can do something about the things that have not happened."

    It was good that the tantrum was very short. This time, he finished his homework, packed his bag and went to school happily.

    As I walked down with him to the school bus, I told him that I was happy that he had chosen to do the right thing not to let his feelings take control of him.
In decision making, we must be able to distinguish between what is really good for us and what seems good for us. Making this distinction is a matter of clear, rational and biblical thinking that is able to weigh the alternatives. It is at this point that emotions may dominate and rational thoughts go out the window! Therefore, it is important to establish principles beforehand as to what to do when caught in that situation.