In our home, I have a picture of six faces on my fridge and each face expresses a different emotion. There is anxious, frustrated, sad, happy, disappointed and surprised. My five-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter saw the faces on the fridge and wanted to know what each of them meant, and what word went with each face. She then wanted to know what would be going on if someone was looking anxious, disappointed, frustrated etc. She was very keen for me to tell a story about what could be happening if I was feeling that emotion.
Never one to back down from some good storytelling, I made up stories for each face and pretended I was a child experiencing the different emotions. Now I am asked to do this each time she pops around so I am getting lots of practise with emotions. They sounded a bit like this.
“I hope I get to school on time today because Mrs Miles doesn’t like it when we come after the bell. We have to go to the office and get a late card. Then I might miss giving news and I really want to tell everyone about my new brother. I also hope that Bella comes today because she was away yesterday and I didn’t know who to play with.”
This was easy because that feeling crops up a lot. “I was playing with the new Lego set that I got for Christmas and trying really hard to follow the picture on the box it came in. My little brother, who has just got good at crawling, kept trying to help himself to the pieces and even eat them! He stopped me from being able to build the shop and then Mum said that it was time to pack it away for lunch. Grrr. It’s so unfair. Why can’t I play with my Lego on my own?”
As a child I found it pretty easy to get sad, so this one also rolled off my lips. “I miss my friend Jamie. She has moved house and goes to a different school now and I hardly ever see her. Mummy says I should just make a new friend but she was the one I liked playing with the most!”
This one was fun to do. “Guess what? I am allowed to get a kitten this year! I had to wait until I was seven years old and my birthday’s in March so it won’t be long. We are going to go to the SPCA and I am allowed to choose the kitten I want. I can’t wait, this is the best thing ever.”
“It was my turn to sit in the front seat of the car because I was the leader of the week and could choose. Then Mummy said that Grandma needed to sit in the front seat just for a bit while we took her home. ‘That’s not fair!’ I shouted. I was so disappointed because I was looking forward to it and it was really my turn, not Grandma’s.”
My granddaughter loved this one, which for her borders on giving a person a big fright! Of course some surprises are fun and some are not. “I thought we couldn’t go camping for the holidays but Dad surprised us last night by saying that there had been a cancellation and we could now go camping in January. I am not only surprised, I am really excited!”
Sometimes we forget that it is completely normal for people to experience both negative and positive feelings. Many parents do their best to protect their children from negative feelings like sadness, worry, loneliness or disappointment. It is not that we willingly bring challenging events into our families, but we can instil a belief in our kids that feelings are not to be feared. They are perfectly normal and once we get used to them, they don’t have to be something we are scared of.
When parents stop rescuing their kids from tricky situations, like not getting into a team, losing something, making a mistake or taking a risk, this can make a huge difference in a family. If you, as a parent, can sit calmly with your own emotions, showing your kids that it’s possible to get through an uncomfortable feeling without falling apart, they’ll be encouraged to do the same. Resilient kids are often those who know they will be okay, despite feeling terribly sad about missing out on a treat.
As a child growing up, I felt things deeply. I got terribly anxious about being without my mum, I got scared about getting things wrong at school and I worked out that staying quiet was better than getting into trouble. I did not have words to tell anyone what was going on so I carried my feelings around with me and tried to think about things as little as possible. I think I would have loved an opportunity to talk about how I felt rather than internalise my emotions, because every now and then, the feelings would overwhelm me. I would feel out of control and afraid of the immensity of my emotions.
When your children feel something, and you help them by naming what it might be, you give them an amazing gift – tools to understand themselves and become more confident in expressing what’s most important to them. A child who feels terribly upset by losing a game of snakes and ladders can be helped (and this takes time) by having a loving person sit alongside their disappointment or frustration, and naming it. “Ben, you are pretty disappointed that you didn’t win this time. I can see you really wanted to get to the end first. Would you like to sit with me for a minute or have a cuddle?”
If you take the time to pause and let your children experience their emotions, and with time, label them for themselves, you are helping grow resilient and well-balanced kids. Instead of distracting your kids when they cry or get frustrated, or dismissing their feelings, allow them to come to grips with their experience. This allows kids to accept and then accommodate their emotions. It’s a journey for parents to go on first with themselves and then with their children. When your feelings control you, it is pretty scary. When you can articulate what the feeling is, and know that it will pass, you feel less afraid and more ready to meet life full on. What an amazing gift to give your children.
When Tough Stuff Happens
Designed for seven to 12 year olds, this is a great activity book to help kids identify and name their feelings, especially after a tough experience. It helps them understand the reasons for their deeply-felt emotions and gives strategies to help them work through tough times.
Hold On to Your Kids
Dr Gordon Neufeld
This book is about parenting with relationship in mind and restoring parents to their natural intuition. Offering effective strategies for preserving and restoring the child-to-parent relationship, this book provides refreshing, natural alternatives to today’s methods of behaviour control and understanding children’s emotions.
What to Do When Your Temper Flares
Dawn Huebner, PhD
This interactive self-help book is a fantastic resource for educating, motivating and empowering children to work toward emotional maturity and true behavioural change.
The Anger Toolbox
With its friendly, honest style, this book uses evidence-based information and local New Zealand support contacts. It looks at what anger is, the effects it can have on us and the different strategies children, teens and adults can learn to manage it safely and well.
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