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Through the eyes of a child.

Updated: Nov 13, 2018


"this is the recipe of life,

said my mother

as she held me in her arms as i wept

think of those flowers you plant

in the garden each year

they will teach you

that people too

must wilt

fall

root

rise

in order to bloom

-Rupi Kaur, the sun and her flowers


Does your kid cry? Yeah, mine too (inconvenient, right?). Excuse my sarcasm, but when I first had kids I forgot how much little people feel, or maybe it was that I was completely unaware of how BIG their emotions could get and usually at the most inconvenient times (grocery store, movies, in front of all the new moms I just met…). They feel, which as it turns out, is a VERY human thing. Maybe I’m the only one, but I need that reminder sometime, uhuum, daily. Not only for the sake of my little people and their big feelings, but for the sake of the person I see in the mirror each morning and her big feelings.


This whole kids and ‘big feelings” business should never have come as a surprise to me, though. When I was young, I often heard the words, “oh she’s crying again”. Fair enough, I ALWAYS cried (/ cry). I remember feeling this wave of shame every time tears would start to flow, and that shame and embarrassment would grow, and would sit with me as I attempted to run from it, until of course, the next wave came in, usually bigger, so I’d run faster…I became a really good runner...until of course, I started to drown…


So now, I try not to run and I try to make sure my kids don’t feel that they need to run from those feelings-happiness of course, but also, sadness, anger, frustration, and jealousy, regardless of how big or irrational they appear to be.


Emotions are complex, I think we all know this. We are all a product of our own upbringing within different environment’s and the experiences we attached to certain situations changes how our emotions are expressed. There are so many variables and moving pieces it is hard to just label an emotion as one thing and then move on. But sometimes I feel we are not equipped with the information we need to fully support our kids, ourselves for that matter, even if it seems like it should be intuitive.


According to “Growing Miracles” through Calgary Paeds:, "as parents, we spend lots of time teaching our children tasks such as tying their shoes or putting away their toys. We need to give them just as much help in learning how to handle their feelings such as anger, sadness or frustration. Babies depend on their parents to help them focus and learn how to deal with overwhelming feelings. When you are able to respond to your child’s cues in a sensitive way and help her celebrate her joy and decrease her distress, you are building the basic brain connections that build emotional regulation. When you help your child do this at a young age, it is easier for her to learn to do it on her own as she gets older.”


As kids grow, they are learning how to navigate and regulate their emotions in order to cope within their everyday environments. But, since they are learning, like everything else, they need OUR support in this. Our, as in their parents, their caregivers, or as my daughter calls us-their “adults” (feels like so much pressure!). We are their emotional coaches, which I think is a huge responsibility, and something I wasn’t fully prepared for. To be completely honest, up until the last few years, I don’t think I was a very good emotional coach. I was not very emotionally literate.


"Emotional literacy: understanding, expressing, and managing our emotions and aside from the obvious benefit, it also helps us to build empathy-helps us to be able to see a situation through someone else’s eyes. It is embedded in the 6 trauma informed care principles of self awareness, empathy, safety and trust, choice and collaboration, encourage and hope, and focuses on a person’s strengths and skills."

To me, we all need to be a little more emotionally literate, for the sake of ourselves, our kids, and the the kids we see and interact with daily. If there was any parenting course that I wish was available and encouraged pre-kids, it would have something to do with emotional literacy. Mainly because I could have used it for myself and all MY big feelings, and secondly, I may have been better prepared to handle the elephant sized feelings my little people would add to the mix. It is hard work, really hard, because, as an adult, I ALSO feel and when I am tired, which is always, I easily get frustrated. Alice in wonderland’s “we’re all mad here” rings very true in some of our home situations-side note, the online emotional literacy module is ALL about Alice in her little wonderland.


So, now at home, we talk A LOT about feelings, maybe too much but the reality is, if my kids aren’t screaming in rage, they are bouncing off the walls in happiness, or flailing on the ground in frustration. For us and our little people, emotional coaching sounds simpler then it is but it involves identifying and validating feelings as big or irrational as they might seem sometimes (thanks Grover and Dave Mathews via Sesame Street) " I need a word so I can say what I'm feeling today. I need a word so I can say how I feel. I need a word that'll say what I'm meaning to say and tell you the way that I'm feeling". I want my kids to know that feeling sad, or mad, or jealous are not only normal, but that we will stick with them as they navigate through these roller coaster emotions.


At the 2nd Annual Circle of Hope conference, Calgary Psychologist Dr. Allan Donsky encouraged us to “not pathologize emotions”. Try not to see emotions as a symptom of a disease, state them as they are. We are allowed to feel sad, we are allowed to feel anger, and we have to realize that there is nothing wrong with a person who has these feelings. I want my kids to know this and I need to know this. I asked my daughter a few weeks ago “are you allowed to be mad?” And her response was, “no, never, its not good to be mad!”. PARENT. FAIL. So, as a parent, we ALSO try and make sure our words match our actions. Of course, we did remind her that taking accountability for your actions when your feelings are used as a weapon to hurt someone else (like hitting your brother when you’re mad, or screaming unkind things to your parents because you are jealous) is a BIG part of most of our discussions too. It has been a work in progress.


Identifying. Validating. And describing?


In the new Special Edition TIME magazine article titled “Finding the Right Words” by David Bjerklie, he states that “when we can describe our feelings with precision, it gives us information we can act on”. Describing our feelings isn’t something we are used to doing in this home. Identifying, yes, validating yes, describing-no. A dear mama friend shared how her 7 year old son described what feeling sadness was like. He said “his heart turns blue and it breaks and it breaks and just keeps on breaking. He feels like that when he is lonely”. With precision. I feel that like a punch in the gut. I feel the sadness that 7 year old can so beautifully describe and yet we often pass off those big feelings our children have as “their {she} goes crying again”. It opened my eyes to the importance of seeing what our kids are feeling through their eyes, how they feel it, what that looks like and it gave me such incredible insight into their hearts. 5 year old aspiring vet describes feeling scared as “I’m being eaten by a monster”, and 6 year old lover of all things music describes feeling sad as “it’s like an orange falling all by itself from the tallest tree and then crashing and smooshing to the ground and smooshing more and more”-with precision.

“When responsive caregivers are present to help calm a child’s emotions and fears and teach him or her new and adaptive coping skills, even serious stress can be made tolerable and won’t produce lasting effects on brain development”. -Gabor Mate

I feel that even us caregivers sometimes need the tools, the information, the emotional literacy to do this. Or atleast I do, anyways.


We all have to learn to live with and through these hard feelings, not ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. Maybe if my kids feel that they have been carried through their feelings without shame they will be confident in themselves and go forward allowing someone else the same.


"We are social beings and emotions bind us together". Emotional literacy


So go on now, add the emotional literacy module (within the trauma informed course) to the list of 50 other things you need to get done this week, all while picking up a few tantrums off the floor. But seriously, it’s a great place to start.




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