Friday, September 22, 2006

on emotions... "I Hate Cheerios"

Okay I noticed that I called this blog "reflections" but I really fill it up with mindless jibber jabber... well I caution you before you read on, this is not mindless jibber jabber and there is a good chance you may read something that you don't agree with, ... that is okay...

I have been thinking a lot about emotions and more specifically children and their emotions. I have had a number of conversations and I have read many things about children and emotions in the recent past and throughout my years as a parent. Recent events have made me even more aware of this issue.

Here are some of my thoughts...
- Many times I think we as adults, teachers, and parents have a hard time dealing with or even understanding our own emotions (especially emotions we might consider negative) that we often struggle in dealing with these same emotions in children.
emotions that quickly come to mind...hate, anger, fear, sadness

-I think that because of the negative associations we make with these feelings and our own lack of understanding and inability to deal with them, we tend to want to "Spare" children from feeling these intense and powerful emotions.

-attempting to spare children from experiencing emotions whether positive or negative, I believe is a mistake.

-I think when we do not acknowledge children's emotions, and especially when dealing with strong negative emotions, we are sending them mixed messages about how to deal with their emotions.

-We all have a right to feel what ever it is we are feeling, how we act on those feelings is important. Obviously we have to act in ways that are appropriate and socially acceptable.
*This is the key to why we need to look at how we deal with emotions... we need to help children understand them and then teach them how to deal with them appropriately when they don't know how to do that! (all these recent school shootings remind me of what a poor job we are doing of this in our society, I realize there is more at play here than just an issue of emotions... but I believe emotions play a big part of the issue.)

-Children, just like adults have the right to be mad, sad, scared, etc.

-We have to learn to not deny their feelings just because it bothers us to hear them cry, hear them yell, see them in fear, or because strong emotions make us uncomfortable. etc.

-We have to acknowledge what they are feeling and help them make appropriate choices for how to deal with those emotions. Sometimes that means acknowledge they are sad and letting them cry, or more specifically not trying to "fix it" (i.e. offering food, treats, distractions) but just talk with them about what is bothering them with out judgment or an agenda of our own.

-Have you ever said to a child ... there is nothing to be afraid of, don't be sad, that's nothing to cry about, why are you so mad what is the big deal, stop your yelling.... ? Why?

-When we let kids have their feelings and let them know it is okay to be mad, sad, scared,etc. they are usually better able to work through it and move on. When we deny their feelings, not only do they not have the opportunity to work though it but now they have to deal with the frustration of us trying to control their feelings and us not caring about how they really feel. *Combine this with other issues such as the oppression of women (after reviewing all the school shootings has any one noticed that they are almost always male shooters and they often choose female victims?), bullying, the over exemplified ideas of what it means to "be a man", and the constant desensitizing of children to violence, and we can begin to understand why we have kids who at 13, 14, and 15 are going off the deep end and shooting other kids in their schools.

One conversation I had not too long ago has really stuck with me and keeps bringing me back to this topic (and keeps reminding me there is so much more I need to learn about it it) had to do with a small phrase we were questioning using in a drama in our Sunday morning children's ministry.

The phrase was this: "I hate Cherrios." -for real that was it.
The question we reflected on was should we change "hate" to dislike?
The premise was that it is a strong word and we don't want kids to think it is okay to throw the word hate around casually. A very good point.
The more we talked about it we decided that it should stay "hate" because we believe children have the ability to process feelings and begin to understand them, to deny this is condescending on our part.
If they don't have the understanding and ability to process strong words and emotions like hate then we need to dialog with them in order to help them develop those skills.
By not doing this, and saying "dislike" instead, we are simply contributing to their in ability to deal with the strong emotions that we know they will feel at some time in their life, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

*Too bad more adults (myself included) don't critically reflect further on just these sorts of interactions with children, how much better off we all would be if we did.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Kelly! Joel and I are learning through counceling that we need to talk more about feelings with Nico. We are learning to process through them and what is acceptable behavior and what is not. It's a work in progress!!

Kjj said...

Sound like you are being very proactive! It is a work in progress, I hear you, it is not an instant or quick fix, as I am sure you have found, but the benefits come from you and your child having a closer and more respectful relationship and your child learning important social and emotional life skills they will use now and throughout their lives. Preserver and you will see the rewards I know it! I will pray for your determination and endurance, it is something we all need as parents.

welch said...

Kelly, thank you for the post and the reminder. As you know we have a very emotional kid and at times it can be hard to handle and I can fall into those all too familiar traps. I try to remind myself not to dismiss his feelings, but to give him acceptable ways to deal with them.

I pray regularly that I don't train that passion out of him though. There are unacceptable behaviors that can result from his emotions, but someday if that passion gets pointed toward something good I am sure he can do amazing things.

Kjj said...

I agree totally! And I think your son is very fortunate to have a father that can see the positive side of things!