Tuesday 1 May 2012

Big Feelings

I had an interesting conversation with my son Nathan the other day.  I’ve noticed that he has a lot of trouble calming down after he’s upset.  A friend will bump into him on the playground and he’ll storm off and refuse to play.  If the friend pursues, Nathan will tell him “I don’t like you anymore” and run away.  This behaviour was bothering me a lot.  I know that some of it is just because he’s four, but hurting other people’s feelings doesn’t help you keep friendships.

I was thinking about it and I remembered when I was a child.  Everything seemed very intense to me and my feelings were overwhelming.  Things that other people were able to shrug off, I wasn’t able to.  Whether I felt things more intently or was just worse at learning to control my reactions, I couldn’t say.  But I remember how hurt I was when people told me I was over-reacting or a drama-queen.

I also spent some time paying attention to the children (or animal or puppet representatives) on children’s television.  And I noticed that most of those children were very under-reactive.  Even when they throw tantrums, the situation is quickly resolved with a quick chat or musical number.  I know they have to keep things simplistic, but the model they’re using isn’t one most children could follow.

So I sat Nathan down and I talked about big feelings.  How sometimes you have little feelings and sometimes you have big feelings.  Big feelings like being mad or sad or even happy.  When you have a big feeling, it feels like you’re going to burst.  And when you’re little, a lot of your feelings are big, too big to keep inside.  I told him that it isn’t good to try and squish your feelings deep inside because they fill you up and don’t leave any more room for good feelings.  (Maybe I’m being too literal, but I think we’ve all had situations where we felt our emotions overflowing.)

I’ve always wanted my children to be comfortable expressing their feelings.  I never wanted to push the stereotype of the unresponsive male.  But they also have to learn how to express their feelings appropriately.  I’ve been trying to teach Nathan some appropriate things to say when he’s upset, like “Leave me alone, please” or “I don’t want to play now”.

I’m hoping I’m striking the right balance between respecting his feelings (he doesn’t have to play if he’s upset) and being socially polite. 

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