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Inside Out movie was one of my favorites this year. Its main message was so very important. We saw an adventure with emotions played by characters, “Joy” and “Sadness” among others. Joy wanted to push away and ignore difficult emotions like Sadness, but this wasn’t helpful at all. Things got worse the more she tried to create joy all the time. Joy eventually learned that allowing sadness is very helpful. Distracting ourselves from typically “hard” emotions can actually us hurt more than if we simply feel our feelings. One of my missions in life is to help parents and children understand this concept, so imagine how delighted I was that a Pixar movie helped to spread the message!
Some children and adults have difficulty getting in touch with their emotions in the first place, let alone being able to allow and process them. This can happen when we repeatedly ignore, push away or distract ourselves from the feelings we’re having. When we continually thwart body sensations (feelings), the energy of the emotion can get ‘stuck’ in our nervous system. This stuck energy can dull our overall experience in life. Not allowing ourselves to experience sadness can prolong painful experiences like a loss of a loved one longer than necessary.
Most emotions have a short life span. Think of a wave coming into shore and then receding. This is similar to what happens with emotions when we allow them. Note: When we’re experiencing a big loss, there may be many waves of sadness, but each wave will come in, crest, and recede if we allow the feeling. This allowing helps us process emotions. Emotions are just emotions. None of them are bad, but for the exercise included in this post, I will refer to emotions like happiness, excitement, joy, and similar as “positive”.
So, how do you help kids “feel their feelings”? Below (and on the infographic) is an exercise to help you and your children begin the process. Do this with one child at a time and, if possible, work with the child in a quiet place where you are free from distractions. The activity can be done with any emotion, but I strongly encourage you to start with an emotion that made the child feel good. After some practice with positive emotions, you can try this out when your child is worried, fearful, sad or anxious. Please pay close attention – If at any time your child becomes overwhelmed during the exercise, please stop. Talk to your child, give them a hug, let them know that you are there to support them. When your child is ready, shift back to doing the exercise with a feeling that may be a bit more difficult. If you find that working with difficult feelings are too much for you or your child, please seek assistance from a professional.
THE STEPS Do this on your own first and then guide your kids through it.
1. Think about a happy, glad, joyful, or in some way positive memory or experience. It can be anything, but try to select a single positive aspect of the event or experience. (a home run, a great result in a subject, a goal successfully achieved, a kindness shared or received).
2. Close your eyes and think about the positive experience you’ve chosen. Do you notice a feeling in your body related to the memory you’re focusing on?
3. Scan through your body until you locate a feeling associated with the positive experience. Emotions are experienced as sensations or vibrations in the body. Each sensation is unique for each person and can be felt anyplace in the body. Note that your ‘happy’ may be felt in a different way and place in your body than your child’s sensation of ‘happy’.
4. Once you find the emotion/sensation describe it. Use these questions to help with the description:
- Where is the sensation in the body? (It may be in the head, chest, arm, tummy, etc. Let the child tell you where it is.)
- How big is it?
- What shape is it?
- Does it have a color (or colors)?
- Is it warm or cold? Sharp or pointy or fluffy, etc?
- Is the feeling moving or changing in any way?
- What is the name of the feeling? (happy, glad, good, nice, joy, etc.)
5. Once you’ve identified and described the feeling, keep your attention on it. Stay with the sensation as long as you can. Usually the sensation will fade away after a short time. The sensation may change and move as it fades away. These changes are fine.
If the feeling fades away and fully passes, congratulations, you’ve felt through a feeling! And great job even if you only make it through step 1 or just a few steps in this process! This activity may be easy for one child and difficult for another. Make sure you acknowledge your child (or yourself!) no matter how many steps are completed.
If you found this helpful and would like more tools to help yourself and your kids feel better and do better, check out my new app for iPad and iPhone that’s available soon or my books which you can explore alongside your children. My newest class for adults is called Dissolving Anger into Love.