Who am I kidding with the title? This is about learning for ourselves how to handle tough emotions. Isn’t that the way it always goes with parenthood? What we most need to learn for ourselves, our children ask us to teach.
Children are our best teachers, I’m convinced.
They are like tiny Buddhas, full of wisdom and insight ready to be gleaned from us, their parents. We just have to sit still and be uncomfortable with the lessons and willing to grow.
My oldest is my thinker. My feeler. She has so much insight into her own feelings at seven, that it blows my mind sometimes. I am almost 40 and still learning right alongside her. Sometimes I feel as if we’ve reached the end of my scope of wisdom when she comes to me for advice. And it’s then that I realize there’s a lesson in there somewhere for me, too.
Right now, our lesson is all about being mindful of our feelings … especially difficult ones … and realizing that they are just feelings, not our truths. It’s about letting the storm rage inside, if need be, and knowing it all passes.
The other day, Ella was sitting in the kitchen with me, watching me cook, unusually quiet. “I’m a mean girl,” she blurted out. What? I thought. My kind little girl thinks she’s mean? I prodded her a bit. Turns out, she was having some difficult feelings and thought that if she had mean feelings about someone or something, then she was a bad or mean person.
I think there’s a really important distinction there. I’d never thought to teach my kids that their difficult feelings weren’t “bad.” And that having difficult feelings did not make them a bad person. In fact, had I even learned that myself?
All feeling are okay. Gosh, such a simple idea that’s profoundly hard to grasp for me as an adult. How much time have I, myself, wasted feeling guilty for difficult feelings? I struggled for a long time with postpartum depression, and the whole time I equated having negative or unsettling feelings with actually being a bad mom. I’ve since learned how damaging those thoughts were.
Fall, naturally a time for more introspection, can surprisingly leave us feeling a little funky. We get quiet and sometimes hard feelings come up because of the stillness. I’m feeling restless and a little unsure right now. My youngest is feeling surly. My oldest a little angry.
We all need to learn how to sit with these feelings without letting them rule us. But how?
I turned to my favorite book on children’s mindfulness to figure out how to make this lesson more tangible for both Ella and me. Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) has been my go-to for a while now. The author, Eline Snel, explains mindfulness in simple, concise ways that make sense for all ages. She includes exercises to really solidify the lessons at the end of each chapter, and the book includes a CD of guided exercises. (My children don’t love the guided meditations, but they do enjoy the lessons I’ve taught them through exercises at the end of the chapters.)
Chapter 6, titled “Weathering the Storm Inside,” was written specifically for navigating different emotions and staying with them. She explains that, ” … by not wishing these [hard] feelings away … you learn to notice the ‘weather’ inside and to root yourself in what is really happening.”
Here’s a quick mindfulness exercise that can help bring some clarity and allow us to weather the emotional storms with our children:
- Have your child take one quiet minute to get still and go inside to discover what he or she is feeling.
- Ask your child what her inner weather forecast is like. (We began by talking about the actual weather forecast outside.) Are her feelings sunny? Cloudy? Stormy? Windy?
- Help her to realize that the weather is always changing. When storm clouds roll in, sometimes it rains hard and moves on quickly. Other times, it’s gray and cloudy for a long time. But then what happens? The weather shifts and brings sunshine again. Maybe wind. It’s always changing, coming and going.
- I had my kids take one more step and actually paint their inner forecast. What colors show their feelings? What scenes or images make them think of their inner forecast?
- The next day, take a look at the paintings again. Does your child still have the same inner forecast or has it changed? Making note of this can help them understand the transient nature of moods.
So once we’ve identified our inner forecast, then what? We can decide what we need. Usually, I’ll ask my girls if they need a hug, some space or something completely different. Sometimes we don’t know what we need. And that’s okay.
Just sitting with one another in our moments of downpour or wind or cloudy grayness is all that’s needed at times. The important thing is that we’ve noticed the weather, and we know that it’s just the weather. And the weather will pass.