Emotions are such an important an integral part of all of our lives. They are an inevitable part of the human experience. In my work as a movement therapist, emotions are the very first things we dive into. “E-motion” … energy in motion. As adults, many of us have stuffed away the big emotions over the course of many years.
Many of us have not encountered, explored, or allowed ourselves to truly uncover and feel what lies beneath the surface. I will even go so far as to say that there is a systemic fear of truly feeling the deeper emotions – I have heard people express a fear of “not coming back”, should they allow themselves to “go there”.
Especially at this time, with where the world is situated on a pivotal turning point, we need to go there. Stuffing emotion will do nothing but give way to dis-ease and anxiety. And when we really dive in and explore the deepest recesses of our emotions and psyches, we give permission to our creative sparks to come to life and make things really, really happen.
If this intrigues you, as something you may wish to explore, a good place to begin is with our children.
Younger children may not yet have the coping skills or life experience to draw upon in order to put things into perspective. The caretakers in children’s lives have a responsibility to explore children’s feelings and teach them how to embrace them.
Being able to deal appropriately with one’s emotions is key to success in school, relationships, and ultimately, life in general. Here are some ideas on how to explore the world of feelings with your children.
Music is an emotional experience, whether playing or listening. Try playing different CDs and ask your children what kind of emotion the music seems to be expressing. Using whatever instrument is available – piano, recorder, drums, harmonica, etc. – ask your child to play a song that represents a certain emotion.
Turn it into a game – write down different emotions on slips of paper and let your child draw one at a time out of a hat.
Also, pay attention to songs that evoke an emotional reaction from your children. If they are really enjoying a particular song – asking you to turn it up or play it again, take note of this. Explore this song and have them dance it out, act it out, play it out, or talk it out.
If you wish to try direct, meditative explorations with your child, this is one of our very favorite CD’s to use for relaxation and imagination.
Putting your feelings onto paper or into clay can be very therapeutic. Encourage your child to tell you about his or her artwork – why pointed shapes? Why red or why green? You can ask your child to express a certain feeling with paints or crayons, or ask him or her to choose a feeling and illustrate it. Another artistic exercise is to have your children draw different facial expressions.
My oldest daughter loves to draw animals, and have her animal drawings express emotion in their faces. This really helps her to express when she is very tired, or has had an extra ‘long day’ at school.
Artwork seems to work very well as a tool for helping highly sensitive children express themselves. Getting their hands dirty by finger painting or charcoal smudging adds that extra element of fun to their expression.
Sometimes, it’s easier to express yourself through another character – it feels safer. Putting on a play can be great fun; it won’t feel like emotional education! As you discuss the role, you can discuss the feelings the character is meant to portray, and how they can do that.
Stuffed animals, puppets, and even toy cars can be perfect tools to use for role playing and more open communication.
Give your young child the words to describe what he or she is feeling. After all, your child can’t talk about feelings if he or she doesn’t know what they are called!
If your child hears you openly discussing your feelings, this will help build his or her emotional vocabulary. Very young children will need help in naming their feelings – it can actually help calm a child down when his or her feelings are explained.
Feelings are much more manageable when they have names. I try to speak to my children each day, asking them how their day has been and how they are feeling. If I sense that a particular event or encounter has left them anxious and unable to express, I try to coax them into discussion (or simply movement or snuggles!) by prompting them with word suggestions.
“How did you feel about that?”, “Were you angry when that happened?”, “Did you feel like you needed to cry?”, “Do you want to talk about it more later?”… these are all questions and examples of questions that I have found myself using.
For children that find themselves struggling with their emotions as they enter adolescence (and don’t they all?), there is an incredible series of informational and helpful books that we have used.
These pretty pieces of jewelry have been around since the 1970s and maybe before. As the different mood colors come up on the ring, talk about them. You don’t need to be serious or heavy-handed; just casually talk about things like why the mood ring has a particular color for a particular feeling (“Does black seem like an angry color to you?”).
You could discuss a time when your child felt a certain way, and how it was handled.
There is something subtle, yet potent, about teaching children at a young age to relate emotions to colors. It also shows them that their feelings have energy, are powerful, and can directly impact the outcome of things.
Most children’s books involve some kind of emotional experience among and within the characters. As you read books together, talk about how the characters feel, why, and how the illustrator portrayed those emotions in the illustrations.
Your child will then be able to relate to the character – and how the character handled his or her feelings – when emotional situations come up. Your child can write his or her own stories, too. One of our favorites is this one right here.
Our children are our best teachers. As you become more open to discussing emotions, your children will end up pointing out (perhaps inadvertently) some ways you’ve handled their emotional moments that did not help. Listen to your kids and, together, work toward handling big feelings effectively.