I wrote this post a year ago (I think) but never posted on this blog! Hope you enjoy 🙂
- Name the feeling
- Validate the feeling
- Find alternative behaviors to respond to the feelings
The way children respond to issues, how they jump around the feelings wheel are all making me think about how we do it as adults, and finding we can learn things from children. This then broadened to me thinking about how we currently relate to children’s feelings, and how we can potentially make these interactions better and teach them life coping skills as well! Children feel a wide range of emotions; they may be angry one moment and kicking dirt in the back yard and may be happy and playful all within ten minutes. This absolutely amazes me. I think sometimes as adults we may view this as childish, inconsistent, and mind boggling – we may even find ourselves asking “why?” I think with children, especially the younger ones, around 3, often are unaware of what they are feeling, because they don’t even know what this word “feeling” means. To them they are simply expressing whatever is going on in the moment inside of them. I know some girls this young are also really aware of their feelings, and have the amazing ability to express what they are feeling, to actually put into words that they are frustrated by something, something is bothering them, or they are totally happy and fine. I think with boys we often see the feelings represented less in “words” and more in “behaviors.”
How do we as adults respond to these behaviors children present? Do we tell them “no” all the time, to stop the behavior? Do we punish them for acting out? I think we are often so focused on the behavior itself rather than ever thinking about what the behavior is telling us. Children have limited skills, especially at 3, of expression of feelings and know only to act with behaviors. I think we can listen to these behaviors. I think asking children – are you mad? Sad? Frustrated? Will begin to put words to what is going on inside of them. I don’t think at first they will know or understand these labels. But I think kids are really perceptive and receptive and if asked could have an answer to your questions. I think it is then important to validate children’s feelings. Saying – it’s OK to be mad, sad, frustrated, happy, etc. I think then the behavior can be addressed and work with the child to find alternatives to expressing these feelings if what they are currently doing is unsafe or unacceptable (like hitting other people, animals, physical objects, etc). Not only will this tell children how to communicate their feelings, but will make it safe to have the feelings, and safe to communicate their feelings. This also gives children a way to find alternative behaviors (coping skills) to be able to handle whatever they are feeling. It’s empowering to give children their voice, and validate their experiences, while also teaching them what an inappropriate behavior is as well as show them there are alternative ways to cope with situations.
I worry when children are told “no” all the time to unacceptable or inappropriate behavior that this will also tell them what they are feeling is “wrong.” How would you like to be told what you are feeling is wrong? Irrational? Unwarranted? When you tell “no” to a child – do they continue to do the behavior? Do they test you and try other things? Do they simply stop doing anything? I know children like to test our limits, and not every behavior has some deep reason behind it. But I do worry that a pattern of “no” without understanding that behaviors and feelings are entwined, that they may incorporate that feelings are somehow wrong as well. I think creating an open dialogue early in life could create a safe place for children to know they can use their words, find their voice, express their feelings without judgment, and find ways that are safe, healthy, and effective at coping with struggles they will face in life. At least this is my hope.
Imagine knowing that your feelings are OK, and not crazy, and not to be judged by others or yourself. That it is OK to feel, feelings can’t hurt you, and if you allow them to flow without judgment they will change, won’t last, and are simply feelings. Imagine knowing you have choices in how you cope with different situations! Maybe a girl will express the frustration of seeing certain messages in the media, maybe she will let herself feel this frustration, and know it’s OK to question it, knowing who she is – is great!
What were you told about feelings?
How was your behavior responded to? How does this relate to your relationship now with your feelings. Do you ignore your feelings? Do you not even know what you feel? Do you think it is wrong, crazy, and irrational to have your feelings? Are you always uncomfortable in your feelings and feel they are never ending? Have you ever fully let yourself just feel the emotion and ride the wave to the next one? Are you uncomfortable with simply being? Do you only have one effective coping skill to handle all of this? Is this one of the roles the eating disorder has filled in your life?