Sunday wasn’t a great day. If I was a baby you would have said I was fussy. If I was a teenager you would have said I was “moody”. I’m not a baby or a teenager though, so the only way I could think of to describe to my husband how I was feeling was: BLERGH. I was laying on my back in the middle of the bed on a regular Sunday afternoon and I was totally, 100% BLERGH.
“What’s wrong?” he asked kindly, as he always does.
If I was to describe BLERGH I would say it’s the feeling that something is wrong but you don’t know what, you don’t feel good, but there’s really no reason why and nothing specifically has happened to make you BLERGH.
“I. Don’t. Know.” I replied and reminded him again, “I’m just BLERGH!”
What about your two year old? What if they’re feeling totally 100% BLERGH on a perfectly regular Sunday afternoon?
Chances are they will throw a whopper of a tantrum in the middle of the living floor over something as simple as the wrong color cup or toast cut in squares instead of triangles. As adults we can look into our vast store of memories and experiences and language (there’s the key) and pull out a word that describes how we’re feeling. Or we’ll make one up (Hello BLERGH!) Small children do not have that luxury; their store of memories and experiences and language is just beginning to grow.
So, what else can they do? They can scream about it. Throw things about it. Maybe even hit and kick about it. As likely as it is that a toddler or preschooler will throw a tantrum it is just as likely that the adults around them won’t be happy about it. They’ll probably be annoyed, maybe even angry.
The last thing they will feel is calm and in control, which is exactly what that tantruming child needs in that moment.
We know that not every day is good and sometimes it feels like there’s more bad days than good. We know what doesn’t work very well is ignoring the emotions we’re having and convincing ourselves that everything is fine and we feel great. Yet, this is what we say to children all the time. Everything is okay. You’re fine. There’s nothing to be sad (or mad) about.
Just so BLERGH
What if instead we tell them that they are safe? What if we tell them that the feeling will not last forever because emotions come and emotions go? What if we offer them the freedom to feel their feelings? What if we offer our calm, quiet presence? Maybe when the storm has passed we can ask them what it felt like in their bodies. or what were they thinking about. Maybe we can help them name the feeling. Maybe there’s no name for it (looking at you, BLERGH!) This approach helps build social emotional language, confidence and self-awareness.
Of course, it doesn’t need to get to the point of a tantrum before we talk with children about their emotions. Talking with young children about emotions, theirs and ours and naming them is crucial to developing emotionally intelligent people. Actually, the sooner and more often we do, the fewer of those tantrums will be necessary because they’ll develop the language to describe what’s going on inside and build memories from the experiences. What greater gift to give your child than the freedom to express how their feeling and the empathy to understand others’ emotions as well. How different would our world be if we let people feel their feelings and respected those feelings with the understanding that all feelings come and go.
Here’s a list of ten picture books about feeling your feelings for ages two and up.
- The Color Monster, Anna Llenas
- In My Heart: A Book of Feelings, Jo Witek
- The Lonely Toadstool, Kristin Addington Culpepper
- The Way I Feel, Janan Cain
- Sometimes I’m Bombaloo, Rachel Vail
- The Feelings Book, Todd Parr
- Lots of Feelings, Shelley Rotner
- Baby’s Feelings: A First Book of Emotions, Little Hippo Books
- Little Faces Big Feelings: What Emotions Look Like, Amy Morrison
- Big Feelings, Alexandra Penfold