The other day on the way to school, in the throes of early morning I-85 traffic, my 9-year-old daughter starts shrieking. Blood-curdling-horror-movie shrieking. In no position to pull over and address the issue, with the help of those deep yoga breaths I’ve been implementing, I ask her calmly what’s wrong.

“IT’S A FROG!” she screams as she hurriedly moves to the back seat, continuing to shriek.

That’s right. Somehow, a tiny little toad had made its way into our van (where my mini-van mamas at?) and had posted up on the door directly to my daughter’s right.

I’m not going to lie — I was silently praying that this little toad did not hop its way to the front seat and land majestically in my hair. I have this fear of creatures landing on my head unsuspectingly. God had mercy on me.

Her little brother, well-meaning I’m sure, looked at her and said, “Don’t be such a drama queen. It’s just a frog.”

Hold the phone. Drama queen?

This is not the first time I’ve heard this term to describe a little girl (mine in particular). Come to think of it, I’ve heard plenty of grown women be described in this way and even men, the term then going from simple insult to an attempt at emasculation, as though emotions are exclusively a feminine attribute.

The frog-in-van situation set us up for deep discussion about why it’s not acceptable in our family to use this term. My son at first held to his guns about it being “just a frog” but that led us into a lesson on subjectivity.

What was “just a frog” to my son was a terrifying assailant to my daughter (and not gonna lie, kind of me, too) and thus justified his use of the term “drama queen”.  Though I’m sure in his 6-year-old mind it was unintentional, this term is typically used to invalidate female emotions that are often too big for their recipients to handle.

I was once in a relationship with someone who repeatedly cut my emotions off with a couple of conversation-ending terms — “Crazy”, “Lunatic”, “Stupid f***ing idiot” (I’m not even kidding, y’all) — and it took me years of therapy to stop hearing these voices in my head every time I made a decision or felt strongly about an issue. After years of hearing these terms, I had internalized them and used them as a gauge with which to view my own feelings and I’ll be damned if I let my kids experience the same.

So was I thrilled my daughter shrieked at me during heavy traffic?  Hell no. And we had a conversation about safety, by the way. But were her emotions and feelings about a terrifying frog taking over our van during our morning commute valid? Absolutely.

What bothers one person may sound “crazy” to another — but that doesn’t make it any less real. We all perceive things differently and calling someone “crazy” or a “drama queen” to shut them down so you don’t have to deal with it will never be appropriate.  Sure, it can be emotionally taxing to deal with the emotions of your children on top of your own emotions and daily routine and job and everything else going on.

But it is so important.

Don’t be afraid to take the time to educate your kids on these types of things — to dismiss it only perpetuates the issue. Hear your daughter calling herself a drama queen? Remind her that her feelings are valid, that she doesn’t have to excuse them with a term of irrationality. Your son calling another female “crazy”? Teach him how to understand emotions when they are different than his.

My son was afraid of the dark for a long time in his room and wanted to sleep with his sister every night until, like, a week ago. We talked about that, about how my daughter wasn’t scared but he was and that his fears were no less valid.

Find some common ground. Draw parallels that they’ll understand. Teach them the importance of emotional intelligence at an early age, of self-advocacy and emotional validation. Teach them empathy, not degradation.

We got to school and my daughter jumped out of the car and ran to class, for those who are wondering, while my son, the PE Coach (thanks Coach Johnson!) and a few other bystanders helped find our amphibious friend and take him/her to safety. I stood on the sidelines, cheering them on, not quite ready to go on the Great Toad Search inside my vehicle.

What’s scary/emotional to one person may be insubstantial to another, but it is still valid and it’s our job as parents to walk our kids through this so they can grow into being emotionally sound adults. No pressure.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pexels

This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.

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