Teaching Children How to Feel

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About this post: having raised five children, this is perhaps the most important subject for me. I learned from my mistakes early on because I love my children so, so much that I wanted to be the best mother I could. They’re worth that. I never became perfect, but I tried. 

Me: How do we teach and encourage our children to feel first?

Jamie repeats the question to herself.

Me: Give us some tips.

Erik: First of all, it’s gotta be in the right language.

Me: For example?

Erik: For example, when your kid falls down, you don’t say, “You’re okay. You’re okay,” to get them focused on being okay.

Me: Let them think for themselves, yeah.

Erik: Yeah, let them think for themselves, but better yet, let them feel. “Do you feel okay? Take a deep breath. Check in with your body. How do you feel?” There are two ways of feeling. There’s the emotional feeling and there’s the physical feeling, right?

Me: Mm hm.

Erik: Let’s say their body is in pain, so they feel pain. Then you ask them, “Well, do you feel okay about that? Are you fine with it? Are you scared? Is there something that we need to address?” Getting them to talk about how they feel will help them be able to rely on identifying how they feel first, and then think about it second. And once they’ve got that down, you can be a—

Jamie: Wait, what?

Erik: Assured. You can be assured that your child is going to react out of an emotional need rather than out of an analytical or manipulative need.

Me: Mm hm.

Erik: They’ll start to choose to do what makes them happy because they know that feeling is best for them. They’ll choose to react out of compassion rather than the ego. The second thing you do with your kid is—

Jamie bursts out laughing at what Erik just said.

Jamie: He just shouts, “Hellooo!”

Me: Why?

Erik: Experience. Set an example. Show them what it looks like by actually sharing how you feel about something.

Me: In other words, modeling that.

Erik: Yeah, when you go to talk to your kids and you’re so fucking frustrated for whatever shit they just pulled on you, you just sit down and look at them before you go to smack ‘em or—

Me: Oh!

Jamie: He just showed me a smack on the bum.

Erik: –or send them to their room or yell, say, “I feel so frustrated. I feel so disappointed, and then explain why you are having that feeling.

Me: Wow, this is exactly the kind of stuff I write in my book, Hearing is Believing: How Words Can Make or Break Out Kids.

Erik: Mom. Mom.

Me: Uh huh?

Erik: Mom.

Jamie laughs.

Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah?

Erik: We should copy a few paragraphs from your book and just pop ‘em in there.

Me: Yeah. Instead of saying, It“I’m so proud of you,” because that’s just making kids think, “Oh, I need to keep doing whatever will make her proud,” you ask, “I bet you’re proud.” That way they’ll reflect like, “Yeah, I guess I am proud, and this is why.” So, they learn to self-evaluate and use their internal compass instead of learning to choose their actions and feelings from external sources and seeking approval from others.

Erik: Yeah.

Me: The book is all about communication, and it deals with a lot about feelings, too, which is kind of like that book you like, Erik. Nonviolent Communication. Instead of attacking the kid like saying, “You’re making me mad,” or whatever, which will just put them on the defensive and make them feel resentment and anger, focusing all their attention on how mean you’re being, you can say, “I feel mad when people say things like that.” That way, you’re just expressing how you feel rather than placing a personal attack on them. You want them to think things like, “What did I do to make this person feel that way.”

Erik: Yes, and by attacking them, you’re also teaching them that they need to live their lives to make you feel better, so the kid loses his insight on how to gauge his joy, his happiness, who he is—


Jamie (to Erik): The what?

Erik: Another thing to help them feel more emotionally connected as emotional beings is to have interactions with other living things. (All gangster) What, what?

Jamie and I laugh.

Erik: Put down the freaking iPad. Put down the phone. Put down the computer, the keyboard, the TV, you know, and go sit with a tree. Look at an ant. Go play with your little brother. Set it up to where your kid can actually interact with other living beings.

Me: Life, yeah.

Erik: Life. Bingo. Period. Life.

Me: Yeah, that’s all we did during our free time. We played outside. It helped us exercise our imagination, too. We learned how to negotiate, lead, follow, compromise, share, deal with frustration and things like that that kids don’t learn. You know the inability to deal with frustration is one of the biggest predictors of future drug abuse.

Erik: Yeah, why are kids being locked inside these days? It’s so bizarre. Everybody’s afraid that their child is going to be picked up by some hawk and carried off or kidnapped. Yeah, there are more people in the world, and, yes, our news likes to focus on that, but if you’re having a human experience with your kid, guess what, you need to be outside with them. You don’t send them out with a little wristband GPS on them.

Me: Paranoid Parenting. That’s a great book. There’s more of a chance of you causing harm to the child by raising them that way than something serious happening to them. So, anything else on how to teach kids how to feel first?

Erik: Nope.

Me: What can schools do to help encourage the children to feel first?

Jamie: He’s rubbing his hair with his hands. He doesn’t have a hat on today.

Erik: Mom, don’t fucking get me started. School systems get me so fucking irritated. I don’t mean to react that way.

Jamie: He’s talking about public schools.

Erik: I gotta give it to the teachers, man. There are brilliants teachers out there, and I stand up and applaud them because they’re making the biggest difference. The system is not. They’re not trusting ‘em. I swear, if I had a ton of money, I’d close down the public schools, and I’d start to make them private.

Me: Yeah, charter schools.

Erik: Charter schools, yeah. Hell, yeah.

Me: There should be a spiritual school where you can teach kids early on how to meditate, for example, so that they could get in touch with their feelings, learn how to ground themselves, all that kind of stuff, right?

Erik: Yeah, and if people are going to freak out hearing, “My kid goes to a spiritual school,” shit, let’s just name it after somebody like we always do.

Me: Oh, yeah. Of course.

Erik: “My child goes to Roosevelt school and they meditate in the morning.” They can learn communication skills. They can learn about nonviolent communication. And you know what? for your child to go to that school, your parent or parents or grandparents, whoever raises them has to show up x amount of time or x amount of hours per semester to take a class to learn how to continue that education or else your child can’t fucking go there. They gotta go somewhere else.

Me: I like that idea.

Jamie: That would be cool.

Me: Yeah, you could even teach them how to heal themselves energetically at least in the higher grades. They could learn how to heal others, too. You could have electives in high school like Reiki. Hopefully that will happen one day.

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Elisa Medhus

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