The more I watch Nathan, the more I'm sure he's like me, easily affected by the world around him. I've learned how to erect walls around myself that protect me most of the time but it takes a long time to learn how to do it without cutting yourself off completely.
I'm hoping I can help him in his journey. But there's one thing which I'm very careful on. I always respect his feelings as genuine. (Even when I suspect his "upset" is more a manipulation tactic than an emotional wound.)
Nothing hurt me more than when people laughed at me when I was upset about something. And it was incredibly isolating and hurtful to be told I shouldn't feel the way I did. It left me wondering if something was wrong with me.
I don't want Nathan to feel that way. Sometimes people do laugh at him and I can see the hurt in his eyes. I can't stop that, but I can ensure it doesn't happen at the hands of his parents.
Mr. Rogers introduced the concept of respecting emotion to children's television. He talked about how important it was to understand what you were feeling and that it was okay to feel sad or mad or frustrated. It wasn't okay to hurt other people's feelings when you're upset, but the feelings themselves were okay.
A lot of children's programs today still treat emotions as disposable. Someone broke your favourite toy? Well, they didn't mean it so we will now all be happy and sing together. I'm still sitting there saying to myself: but he should be upset! That was his favourite toy! And now it's gone!
When Nathan tells me he's mad at me and doesn't like me, I tell him it's okay. I've just disappointed or frustrated him, I expect him to be mad. And at his age, being mad and not liking someone can't be separated. Sometimes he gets upset when I tell him it's okay. I get "It's not okay! It's bad!" from him.
So I tell him it's not bad. That it's okay to be upset. That I understand why he's upset and while I'm sad he's upset, I know it's how he feels right now. It's a complex message, but I hope it'll come across with enough repetition.
Of course, I'm also working on getting him to be polite to people even when he's upset. Saying hello or goodbye to someone is just basic manners, even if you're an irritant away from Hulking-out.
I've also indulged in my inherent comic book geekiness. We've looked at some Hulk comics and talked about how the Hulk has big feelings too. Feelings so big they make him turn big and green. This may backfire on me, but for now, I'm pleased with my inspiration. There aren't many examples of adult men expressing emotion but the Hulk works.