If you have an affinity for 70’s music, like me, perhaps you were fortunate enough to hear “Free to be You and Me” by Marlo Thomas and Friends. It featured a song by football hero, Rosey Grier called, “It’s alright to cry” which I listened to on repeat with my kids. If you’ve not had the pleasure of listening, I would never want to deny you and you can find it here. That song, along with “If You’re Happy and You Know It” were favorites at my house when my kids were singing, dancing toddlers. And “If You’re Happy” turned to “If you’re sad and you know it…” or “If you’re mad and you know it…” They didn’t know that “If You’re Happy and You Know It” didn’t typically feature a range of feelings until preschool. Yeah, you can ask my children how amazing it is to have a psychologist as a mom. Sigh…But more on that another time.
My point is this, friends – just like us, our children experience a wide range of emotions and the only way they learn to recognize, respond and cope with those feelings is through and with us. Next week, I’ll dive into the concept of regulation and what it means to co-regulate with your child. But, for now, let’s just focus on feeling all the feels.
I’ll never forget sitting with a client who was, perhaps in her mid-40’s, as she struggled with feeling identification. I handed her a sheet with a list of dozens of feelings and she began to cry. She said, “I think I know what all of these mean. I think I’ve felt them. But, I don’t think I ever learned how to label them.” Slowly, we walked on that path together. The ability to recognize feeling states in your body and label them is critical in building emotional intelligence. And it’s paramount to healing.
Conversely, I remember working with a teacher who was thrilled that one of her first graders was able to identify the feelings “jealous” and “disappointed.” As I completed a classroom observation, the teacher indicated that she was able to help the student problem-solve more effectively because the 6 year-old was able to label her internal state. Children who can label feelings, recognize what’s happening in their body and ask for help show more emotional intelligence and are significantly less likely to be maltreated.
We could jump to helping kids identify feelings, sure. That would be fast and efficient, but incomplete. So, how about we just start with ourselves? We need to label and sit with our feeling states before we help our children – remember, put on your mask before helping a child. As adults, we need to learn this skill, hone this skill and practice this skill regularly. We also need to be aware of how our children’s feeling states affect us.
Before we hop into regulation and the art of co-regulation, I want all of us to practice feeling our own feeling states. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where do I feel my feelings?
- Where do my feelings live?
- How much are my feelings influenced by thoughts?
- How much are my feelings influenced by others?
- Which feelings do I get stuck in? Afraid of? Avoid all together?
- How do I deal with my own big feelings when they arise?
- How long do my feelings last?
- Do I notice that they are more tolerable around different people or when I’m alone?
If you begin to simply notice these things, you’ll get better at recognizing and organizing your own feelings. This is where to begin – start with you before you attempt to label and support feeling states of your child. If you’ve never done this before, it might feel scary at first. It might feel overwhelming. You don’t have to do it perfectly, you just need to begin.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends, mentors, coaches and therapists can be great at helping you sort through tough experiences. And you’ll begin to grow and connect with yourself and others the more feeling states you allow yourself to feel and experience.
Try it. Listen to Rosey Grier and lean into the feelings. “It’s alright to cry, it might make you feel better.”
That’s all for now. Let me know how it goes, I love hearing from you.