When I saw a picture online of a group of young girls wearing emojis as their Halloween costumes, I thought it was clever and funny. For those of us who’ve missed out on this phenomena, emojis are the tiny icons many of us use online, when texting or on social media sites. The yellow, round graphics range from smiley faces to those shedding a tear, while others have mouths gaping wide open, expressing shock or surprise. Emojis are supposed to be a quick summation of our feelings at any given moment.
After all, how we feel pretty much dictates everything in life. If we can learn to anticipate and recognize our feelings, we can make the case that we’ll be able to adapt our behavior, accordingly. It’s a pretty important life skill.
I’ve spoken with other parents and read articles about the importance of children being able to identify their emotions. All the parenting experts suggest that when a very young child is having a meltdown, appears sad or frustrated that we, as parents, should acknowledge and identify that feeling for them. The idea is that children will learn to identify their emotions first and then, subsequently, manage their reactions to those emotions. This is a process that requires consistency on the part of parents and will take time and maturity for children to learn.
Obviously, we’re not raising little robots, but there’s a sound process here. If we can teach our children to understand their fears, frustrations or sadness in any given situation, they will over time develop the ability to handle those feelings. Fast forward to the future, and we would hope and expect our adult children to be able to not throw a tantrum when they’re stuck in traffic or are told they can’t take a vacation day from their jobs.
The challenge is all around us, especially today, when it’s even hard for adults to identify their emotions. We can’t help but be fearful and sad, especially with news and events happening around the world that make us literally question humanity. We also have the regular pressures on us all from all angles, whether they are economic, health and wellness or just the time constraints of daily living. It’s safe to say that most children are seeing their parents frazzled regularly.
A verse from the hit tune by Twenty One Pilots may say it all:
“Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ days,
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.”
So what should parents do? I believe communicating regularly with our children is essential. When I’m feeling a certain way and those emotions spill over into my children’s worlds, I own it. I will say “Mommy is feeling….” Sometimes, I need to apologize to them for how my emotions have affected them. It keeps me accountable to those highs and lows, and it helps to show them that our feelings are ever-changing. Parents aren’t perfect, and we all have moments we’re not particularly proud of.
A great book supporting this for girls is “The Feelings Books: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions,” which is part of the American Girl series of books. Being a mom to girls and a boy, I know this book may not be something my son will seek comfort in, so I found “Feelings,” by Aliki. There are other fantastic titles out there with the same goals of educating children about this process.
The important thing to remember is to keep the dialogue going with your children. Let them know it’s ok to have big emotions. As parents, we can do our best to help them understand what their feelings are and learn appropriate ways of handling their reactions to them.
And in the words of Anne Frank from “The Diary of a Young Girl”:
“Feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.”