Negative Socialization of Emotions: Katie and The Balloon: Version Three

Katie's Mother Punishes Feelings

The range of negative parental or adult responses to children’s feelings is much wider than the positive responses depicted in the previous essay (Go To: Positive Socialization of Emotions: Katie’s Mother Supports Feelings).  Parents can neglect children’s emotions by not responding to them; they may sometimes accept feelings in their child and sometimes not.  They may accept and support some feelings and not others; they may manage children’s emotional behaviors but never relate the behaviors to proper labels or acceptance of the inner states; They may become tense and anxious in relations their child’s feelings and act unpredictably; they may become negative and rejecting of the child as well as the feelings or emotional behaviors; they become so emotionally aroused when the child becomes emotional that they become abusive.

I will not try to show this full range of possibilities in the vignette to follow.  Instead I will allow Katie’s mother to react to her child’s emotionality with responses that indeed represents efforts at socialization of emotions—but never positively and often quite negatively.  Katie’s mother will speak words that indicate that her own feelings have been triggered and have become more dominant in her responses than her concern for Katie or any understanding of or empathy for what Katie may be going through as a result of the events that occur—including Katie’s responses to her mother’s words themselves.


        Katie and the Balloon: Version III


Katie KNOWS.   “Balloon”, she squeals.  “I want balloon” .  Her whole being and body stretches out and twinkles toward the man with his lovely dancing bouquet of smooth round flowers.  There is energy in her steps, direction, focus, dancing, skipping energy even though she is too young to skip.  She is ahead of her mother, striving toward the object of desire, an arm up reaching for string, face smiling, focused, hungry anticipation.   EXCITEMENT

Mom:  Don’t make so much noise, Katie.  Just ask me if you want a balloon.  I don’t like to see you jumping around like that.

Mother, reaches in her purse, $3 to the balloon man, Katie points to a big blue one.  The string is placed in her hand and she and the balloon dance down the path, moving up and down, side to side.  Katie has her head up, watching this lovely, lively blue balloon that is hers and in her power.   Her face is now mobile, smiling, relaxed more than focused, enjoying, glorying in this thing possessed, moving with her, belonging to her.

Mom:    Come on Katie, Hurry up.  We’re going to see the animals.  Watch where you’re walking. 

Katie doesn’t see and wouldn’t understand if she did, the Hawthorne tree ahead, leaning over the path with so-far only teeny buds clinging to its slender branches amid the long sharp thorns.  Katie dances under tree, balloon follows, hits a branch and another, interesting to child—then, BOOM! (lurch, Whoosh).
Katie hears BOOM!, startles, alerts, tenses, freezes for an instant, then, turns to mother, runs to her side and clings.  Who made that noise, what danger lurks, is the world safe?   Head hiding in skirt at mother’s thigh.  FEAR

Mom.  Oh Katie. Look what you did now.  You popped the balloon.  I told you to watch where you were going.

Nothing happens, there is no attack, head turns from skirt, child peeps out.  No monster, no darkness, still sunshine, a bird chirps, breeze still gentle.  Fear subsides, more visual searching.
Then discovery:  disaster for balloon.  Limp, wrinkled deflated rubber, dangling string,  lying unmoving on path, This  no object of delight.
Katie looks around.   Where is Blue Balloon, what is mine, what goes with me?  She walks, but franticly searching, looking, seeking, her fingers open and close, wanting the balloon to be there.  Gone, no more, can’t find.  Face clouds over, recognition, Balloon is this broken, dead thing, lying on the ground, can dance no longer.
Tears come, arms empty, energy low, only weeping.   Loss and SADNESS fill the universe, the hole in the balloon creates hole in Katie’s existence, something full is now empty, there is no future, only the wanting that which was beautiful and exciting and full of energy.  The child can’t see the sun or budding trees and flowers, only what is not there and cannot be found.  The face is an open mouth, sounds of mourning “wah, wah, aaaahh.”  Heaving breast, sobs from belly, shoulders wracked with pain, shaking, tears spilling energy onto the path.

Mom:    Katie, Stop all that crying.   It’s only a balloon.  If you aren’t careful with them, they pop.  Next time you can be more careful.   But stop all that noise and let’s go see the animals

Balloon man is a moving store.  He has begun to follow Katie and her mother up the walkway.  As Katie’s mourning subsides a little, her eyes see the dancing balls come into view.  Within moments, eyes open, tears begin to dry in the gentle wind, arm lifts with renewed energy, reaching, pointing to the magnetic yellows and blues and reds, bobbing like inviting baits, asking to be freed from their bondage in the swarm and  taken for a dance.  “Mommy, Mommy, Balloon!   Want Balloon.  Want Balloon”. EXCITMENT and wanting.

Mommy:  Don’t ask me for another balloon.  You already had one today and you popped it.  So I am not getting you another one. 

“Balloon, Balloon. I Want Balloon.”,  Intensity, rising color, reaching hand toward string, body arching up toward dancing colored apples, all hunger, need to have, possess, restore, fill emptiness.   Face begins to tense, more pleading, rising energy, “Balloon. I Want Balloon.”  

Mom:  No, Katie.  Stop all that fuss. I told you "no" and I meant it.  Now be quiet or I’ll never buy you another one. 

“Yes!  YES!”.    Hand now pulls at mommy’s.  Dragging by force toward Balloons and man who holds the strings.   Goal directed, get what I want, do this mommy. 

Mommy is a rock, immoveable  Katie Johnson, stop that.  If you keep up all that crying, I’ll give you something to really cry about .  Now be a good girl and stop making all this noise.

Katie’s face changes, lips curl, teeth come into view,  some clinching of jaws, eyes narrow. ANGRY tears this time. 
Face red, arms thrash, feet stamp, Katie throws whole self down upon the path.  Mouth wide open, howl, shriek, feet kick toward mommy, arms grabbing, punching the air, back tense and arched, energy thrown at the universe, tear down the barrier, get me what I want, now!

Mommy:    Katie, Shut up.  You’re acting like a spoiled brat.  I bought you one balloon and you popped it.  I will not have you crying and screaming, like some bad little girl.  If you keep on being bad, I am going to take you home and you’ll stay in your room all afternoon.

“Bad Mommy.  Bad Mommy.  I want Balloon!”
Mommy:   Katie, don’t you dare talk to me that.  After all I do for you.  I brought you to the zoo today and you wanted a balloon and I gave it you.  You popped it.  Instead of being sorry you didn’t take care of it, you’re being disrespectful to me.  I’m going to smack your face if you talk to me that way.
More Kicking, screaming, thrashing on ground, shrieking, kicking toward mommy who stays out of reach of feet.

Mommy: You get up this minute.  I am taking you home.  I am so ashamed of how bad you’re being.  You’ve ruined the whole day.


Here is a list of descriptions of some of the ways that Katie's Mom in this version provides poor socialization in relation to feelngs

1. Ignoring indications of emotion and not providing labels for the feelings.
2. Invalidating or delegitimizing feelings or other inner experience
3. Indicating that emotional expressivity is negative
4. Blaming another person for negative outcomes
5. Failing to connect feelings with stimuli
6. Shaming another person for their behavior, feelings, or existence


More specifically, this Mom labels Katie as "bad".  She doesn't tell Katie that she has a right to have feelings. Mom shows no empathy for Katie. The event becomes all about Mom and her feelings, but these aren’t expressed (except for shame, which is blamed on Katie).  Katie is blamed for something that is probably beyond her full comprehension and which she didn't know about before this event. Mom makes no effort to explain and teach, other than by bullying.


At the end of this event, Katie will probably be left with inhibited emotional energy, related to fear, sadness and anger. Katie may learn that feelings are dangerous or unacceptable and should be repressed. Katie has been invited to incorporate negative judgments about herself into her self concept.

In another version of the story, Katie's mother will provide very positive socialization for Katie's feeling life.