“It’s very important that kids learn about and understand their feelings. But it’s also true that feelings need to be recognized for what they are: temporary, changing conditions. They are states, not traits……
So we have to help them understand that feelings are temporary–on average, an emotion comes and goes in ninety seconds. If we can communicate to our children how fleeting most feelings are, then we can help them develop the mindsight on display in the boy we mentioned earlier who corrected himself and said, ‘I’m not dumb; I just feel dumb right now.'” (pp. 103)
Of all the strategies in The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, this is perhaps the shortest one in terms of explanation. And I think it’s one of the easiest for parents to grasp.
Feelings do come and go and it’s important to be able to teach kids that those feelings don’t have to dictate our behavior. In my work with couples (or really anyone), we process early on those core feelings that have perhaps been with us most of our life. Maybe a feeling of being alone, abandoned, not good enough, inadequate. And what we realize is that often those feelings instead of being states, have taken the life of traits in many of our lives. I believe that if we want to teach our kids that feelings are states, rather than traits, we need to do this work with them early on. Children who can’t distinguish their feelings as temporary states, often internalize those feelings in a way that later in life attaches to their identity. So start now the work of doing this with your children…and with yourself.
So as we look at this strategy, I think there are several key points to keep in mind when implementing it. These are some things that I have found helpful and implemented in my own parenting (and the authors have touched on some of these at various points as well).
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings, and validate and affirm them in the process. I think many parents dismiss a child’s feelings or tell them they “shouldn’t really feel that way”, or try and get them to move on quickly with phrases like, “just keep moving forward.” So first acknowledge that they feel a certain way. “It sounds like you feel really alone today. That must not feel really good.”
- Model for them how to identify certain feelings. As our kids experience certain emotions, those situations can become a powerful teaching time to help them put words to what they are experiencing. You might say something like, “Can you describe to me what you were feeling when your friend didn’t play with you at recess? Let’s see if we can find some words together to describe that feeling.” Often at The Hideaway Experience marital intensive, couples will say, “We knew some of this stuff, but we didn’t have any language for it. Now that we have language for it, we can make some powerful changes.”
- Be present and engaged as you teach them about the passing of feelings. I believe that it’s really powerful to be present with your kids as you tell them these feelings will pass. If we aren’t present, but instead walk into the other room as we shout over our shoulder “You will be okay…just give it five minutes”, then I think we have missed an opportunity to connect and demonstrate to them that when they feel bad there are people that will be there for them.
- Connect them to their Truth and strengths. This is for a much longer post later. But after you have validated their feelings, helped them process them, stayed present….then I think it’s powerful to identify a Truth in them, and connect it to their strengths. It might be something like, “You have what it takes.” Or, “You are God’s son/daughter.” Or, “I really admire the compassion you have for your friends.” Or, “You are such an encourager. God really blessed you with a great gift.” There are a million ways to do this, but think of it this way: What message does your child really need to hear in that moment that will remind them of who they are, and how valuable they are?
What are some ways that you have taught your children about the coming and going of feelings?
[Image Credit: Wikipedia, Rolling Thunder Cloud]