There's no such thing as negative emotions

“We learnt about positive and negative emotions at school today,” my 10-year-old told me recently.

“Right,” I replied, “and what are negative emotions?”

And she listed them off: anger, sadness, guilt, jealousy, frustration.

“We played a little board game about emotions,” she added. “When you land on a positive emotion you keep going, but landing on negative emotions means you have to move backwards.”

And so, she and I had a little chat about emotions.

There’s no such thing as negative emotions

On a surface level, I get that things like anger and jealousy can be seen as negative. And I can see how that can fit within a snippet of school curriculum.

But, as a parent, I’m about going into deeper life skills and thoughts.

So I told my daughter this: “To me, there’s no such thing as positive and negative emotions – they are all just emotions. There are, however, positive and negative ways to deal with those emotions.”

“There’s no such thing as positive and negative emotions – they are all just emotions. There are, however, positive and negative ways to deal with those emotions.”

See, the problem with labelling some emotions as “negative” is that we start to think of them as bad things. We start to fear those things being part of us or happening to us. We start to hope we can avoid those feelings.

But we’re humans: we’re going to feel every one of those “negative” emotions many, many times in our lives. That’s a fact.

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Emotions are just emotions

I told my daughter – and continue to tell her and her sister – that emotions are just emotions. It’s okay to feel sad that your pet guinea pig died, it’s okay to feel frustrated about not being able to do something well, it’s okay to feel angry that some kid is bullying you.

It’s how you deal with those feelings that counts.

I didn’t go to the school to talk to them about labelling emotions this way (although I was tempted), because I know that my kids are going to face such opinions in their lives. Rather than try to obliterate those opinions, I can teach them to challenge them; to throw around different ideas in their minds (because my take on it might not fit with them either) and come up with what works for them.

Negative emotions and kids

Why I think all emotions are bloody wonderful

What I didn’t tell my 10-year-old (but will one day) is the reason I feel so strongly about the “positive and negative” labelling of emotions.

I went through years of depression, and in that time I was mostly numb. I didn’t feel joy in the things that would usually make me happy, and I didn’t feel frustrated at the things that would normally annoy me; I was just kind of there in body, but without feeling much at all.

When you’ve lived without feeling emotions properly, you learn to value them. All of them.

When you’ve lived without feeling emotions properly, you learn to value them. All of them.

These days I sit with my emotions, let them come in, and I deal with them. I might go outside and kick some stuff when I’m angry at something that’s going wrong, and I’ll have a good cry when sad news comes along. When I get a rejection in my work that hits hard, I give myself a little time to feel annoyed about it before moving on. That’s not to say that I’m pleased to be feeling those ways, but I’m grateful for it.

Because when I’m feeling something, it means I’m well. It means I’m me again.

I’ve learnt the hard way that emotions aren’t negative, and I want to pass that perspective to my kids so that they, too, can feel all of life.

What do you think: negative and positive emotions, or just emotions?

Both images by Annie Spratt 

Megan Blandford


Megan Blandford is an author and prolific freelance writer.

As a well-respected voice on mental health and parenting, Megan writes for The Age, Sunday Life, Essential Baby, Kidspot, SBS, Whimn, Daily Life, Body+Soul and Headspace.

I’m Fine (and other lies) is her first book – and she’s started with the trickiest story of all: the things that mums never say out loud.

Megan lives in north-east Victoria with her husband, two children and far too many animals. She is, currently, actually fine.

  1. Thank you Megan for putting words and language to what I too have been struggled to articulate. This is spot on in my personal opinion having also felt numbness and wondered why I couldn’t feel emotion. The days and weeks have improved and I’m now feeling again and am so grateful to be able to feel ALL emotions again and encourage this in my children but need to work at how to encourage them to react in a way that’s more positive.

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