Feelings, talking about feelings, allowing everyone his/her full expression of their feelings, drawing feelings, uncovering feelings, and teaching kids about feelings is so much a part of my cell structure at this point that I hardly even think about the "why" behind it all. In fact when I was recently asked: Why is it important for children to be able to fully express their feelings? I didn't know how to answer. I don't have bullet points stashed somewhere in my brain to detail all of the stupendous reasons.
Not being able to answer coherently bothered me. There is nothing I like more than organized thoughts and ideas, so after torturing myself by mentally re-doing my answer again and again, I sat down and scribbled out my thoughts. Little squiggly bullet points included.
In my opinion any single one of the reasons listed below is reason enough to support the wide spectrum of a child's feelings. And I'm sure there are more, but here are some.
- A child that knows what he is feeling can illicit help from his loved ones. If he is feeling scared he can relate this to his mama or papa and they can offer empathy and/or solutions.
example: Mama! When that laundry is all piled up like that I start to think of monsters and then I feel scared.
- A child that recognizes her feelings can warn others of her emotional state.
example: Our three-year old Echo notices when she is feeling "off", pissed-off, and sensitive and lets her sisters and friends know so that they can keep themselves safe. She simply says: "I am in hitting mode." and they then react accordingly, perhaps saving themselves from a scuffle.
- A child that recognizes his feelings and, with help, becomes aware of their temporal/transitory nature, can learn to differentiate between his true-nature and his emotions.
example: I feel bad but I am not a bad person.
- Feeling a feeling all the way through and watching as it evaporates or shifts to a different one is a valuable learning experience. A child that is afforded this opportunity develops emotional strength, and courage to try different activities or situations without debilitating concern for difficult emotions.
example: Even though starting a new dance class is daunting to Bella and she feels nervous, she remembers that nervousness only lasts a short while. The last time she felt that way her mom held her and they talked about it and eventually the feelings changed.
- A child that learns that all feelings are acceptable also learns that he himself, in all his emotional forms, is acceptable.
example: My papa holds me and loves me even when I am scared or crying. He will love me no matter what.
- A child that learns to feel feelings and is allowed to express them fully has no need to stuff any within.
a. (expressing) Frank's little brother stomps on his newly built castle and Frank is MAD. He screams and cries, his mom gives him hugs and empathy and, even though it takes a while, Frank eventually gets it all out and returns to building.
b. (stuffing) Bob's little brother stomps on his newly built castle and Bob is MAD. He screams and cries but his mom tells him the little brother is just a baby, that yelling isn't allowed in the house, if he can't share his toys, and won't stop crying she will take those blocks away forever. Bob stifles his sobs and stores his anger.
Later in Life
- A child skilled at recognizing his own feelings can participate in Non-Violent Communication and other forms of peaceful mediation.
example: I feel really frustrated when you interrupt my story before I am finished. Will you wait until I am done before you ask me any questions?
- A child that is aware of his emotions can use these as a guide when making decisions or designing her life.
example: I feel really nervous when I spend the night at Sharon's. I think next time I'll invite her to my house instead.
- A child well versed in the world of emotion can distinguish between the feelings another is experiencing and the true nature of that person.
example: That person is feeling really bad, but they are not a bad person.
- A child that learns to feel feelings and express them fully need not develop avoidance techniques later in life, such as self-sabotage, drinking, drug use, or intense solitude.
example: Mary-Lou always breaks up with her best friends before they can so as to avoid feelings of abandonment.
- A child that knows his feelings, and is able to communicate them clearly, becomes an emotionally available adult.
a. (emotionally available) Fran noticed Clark was extra quiet tonight, so she asked him what was going on. He said he was feeling worried about the house payments, and sad about finances in general. They sat on the couch together, talking things over and holding hands.
b. (emotionally UNavailable) Sally noticed Billy was extra quiet tonight but didn't ask him why. She knew he would just say he was tired, or that he'd had a long day - the same things he always said.
- A child that has been allowed to feel her feelings to their greatest extent will witness the temporary nature of emotions and later in life refrain from making critical decisions when emotions are running high.
example: I am feeling super upset with Tom right now. I want to just kick him out of the house and get a divorce! But I will wait to act on these thoughts, I am really keyed up right now and want to be sure of what I am saying.
- A child that recognizes his own feelings becomes an adult that recognizes his own feelings and that can then take measures to care for themselves, love themselves during that emotional experience.
example: I am so sensitive right now. I think I am just feeling blue and worn out. Maybe I'll rent a movie and just relax. I don't think its best for me to be among a crowd tonight.
Benefits for Parents
- When our children are able to tell us how they feel we get to find out what's going on for them.
Is something wrong Dillon? Do you need some food?
No Mom, I'm just sad because Jeff said he didn't want to play.
- When our children are able to express emotion we can address their problem at that level instead of running around looking for practical solutions.
Papa: Becky why aren't you putting your shoes on? Do you need help? We gotta get a move on so we can make it to your appointment in time.
Becky: My sock is all bunched up and there is a knot in my shoelace. Wa aah!
Papa: Here, let's pull your socks up.
Becky: No Papa! That's still not right. I like them to fold over at the top and my toes feel funny! Wa aah!
Papa: Becky I'm putting on your socks the way we always do it. Is there something else going on?
Becky: I'm just scared about going to the dentist. I don't want to go.
Papa: Oh you feel scared. You're really worried huh? Do you want me to hold you for a bit?
Becky: Yes please Papa. Thanks.
- When a child can explain his feelings, mediation and problem solving are lightning quick.
- Parenting a child that knows what she is feeling and feels comfortable telling you about it is rewarding and a whole lot easier.
BUT MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL
- A child that can recognize his own feelings learns to recognize those feelings in others. This is called empathy and it is the cornerstone of all peaceful human interactions. Empathy is the thing I MOST want my children to develop, above anything else.
If you want to know how to make your home a place in which feelings are accepted, fully felt and clearly expressed, read my article in the current issue of Mothering titled: How to Build an Emotionally Safe Home, or click here for the post that inspired the article.