Focus on how they want to feel first
As parents, we all want our sons and daughters to feel happy. I especially feel this way each September as my son starts a new school year. My role as a mom is to help my son find happiness and deal with his emotions and feelings in a healthy way.
“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Gloria Steinem
I am raising a son who will never be told to suppress or bottle up his emotions. I want him to feel comfortable expressing the full range of his emotions and feelings. His tears break my heart, but I will not prevent him from crying them.
Here are three techniques I’ve used to increase my son’s emotional literacy.
Didn’t they make a movie about that? Yes, they did.
One of my favorites is the animated movie Inside Out. In the movie, I enjoyed seeing inside the head and emotions of Riley, an 11-year-old girl. Riley’s family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. My son and I watched her world and her emotions go on a roller coaster ride. We saw Riley experience joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust or a combination of emotions at the same time.
I appreciate that Inside Out helps teach our kids they do not need to be positive and happy all the time for us to love them. In fact, some of our most powerful and happy memories come from a deeper happiness tinged by multiple emotions.
When I need other ideas on books or movies, I’ll head to the local library or search online.
Help your child choosing their own brand of happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do
Pharrell Williams has it right in his song, Happy. We all have the right to be happy. My happiness is going to look different than yours. As parents, we can help our children learn what happiness is to them. Once I know what makes my child feel happy, I can help him design a life feels good to him.
A few years ago, I discovered the Desire Map process in a book. Desire Mapping involves figuring out how you want to feel in life. First, I narrowed down my list of feelings to 3–5 feelings. These core desired feelings are those that I want to feel in all areas of my life. I can then go about designing my life with my core desired feelings in mind.
After severals of determining my own core desired feelings, I decided to try with my then 8-year-old son. I thought it might be a meaningful activity to do together.
1. Incorporate elements that will make your child feel loved.
My son likes quality time and a snuggle. What works for your kid? Would doing the activity as an entire family appeal to your extrovert? Do they crave praise? Would a small present like a pen or a journal make the experience more positive? If your child is a more visual learner? Incorporate images or drawing. Be creative.
For ideas on ways to help your child feel loved, I recommend Dr. David Chapman’s books on the five love languages.
2. Create a list together of feelings.
My son and I brainstormed a list together. We also did a Google search of feelings lists for kids. Our search revealed that there are hundreds of different words to describe feelings. I asked him what feelings make him feel good. Next, I shared what makes me feel good and my core desired feelings.
3. Really, there are no wrong answers!
Keep it simple. Sometimes less is more. From my son’s list of positive feelings, he choose: artistic, creative, kind, smart, and silly. I assured my son that there were no right or wrong answers.
4. Who says you can’t feel good every day of the school year?
For each of my child’s core desired feelings, we determined a few activities or actions to help him feel good every day. I signed my son up for improv acting classes to help him feel creative and silly. Your child’s answers might not be what you expect for a feeling. For example, my son said that working on tying his shoes would make him feel kind. Ask clarifying questions. I learned that he felt this because he knew that when his shoelaces come undone his parents felt frustrated.
Create rituals or habits that feel good
Here are some examples from my family. We practice gratitude on a regular basis. Every night at dinner, every member of our family shares five things they are grateful for that day. We try to be as specific as possible. On a great day, it can be hard to keep our list to just five things. After a hard day, we may need to help each other find things for which we are grateful.
We have a hug ritual called the family combination hug. This helps my son to feel silly and get the physical touch he needs to feel loved. We hug each other in every possible combination: mommy + daddy, son + mommy, son + daddy, son in the middle, mommy in the middle, and daddy in the middle.
“You cannot always choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how you feel about it.” Danielle LaPorte
On a regular basis, I try to help my child feel their core desired feelings. I am often pleasantly surprised that my son helps me feel mine too. I also try to him my son to stop doing what does not feel good when appropriate. This is not his excuse to stop doing his homework or chores.
(This post was originally published in BeYourself on Medium.)