I have been teaching the ‘How your feelings work’ lesson in schools this week and have updated the content so I thought I would share the back story and the new ‘How to’…
A couple of years ago when I first taught the program at Narranga, the amazing Gayle Ellicott suggested I add something about self-regulation of emotions. At the time I was so focused on the importance of kids NOT bottling up their feelings that I didn’t register how important emotional regulation really is – let’s face it, it really isn’t socially acceptable to ‘lose your sh*t’ in front of everyone! (Don’t worry I don’t use that language with your gorgeous kids!)
But let’s stick with the poo idea for a minute more…
Pooing and weeing is how we get rid of our physical waste.
It isn’t pretty, but everyone has to do it, so by 3 years old, most kids can regulate their physical waste by going to the toilet by them selves, consistently.
Crying is how we get rid of our emotional waste.
Yes, that’s right, crying is the best way to release anger, fear, sadness and every other ‘bad’ feeling. Yelling and physical exertion like running, punching and bashing a pillow totally help but crying is by far the most efficient.
Do you know any 3 year olds who can get rid of their emotional waste by consistently going somewhere safe to cry when they are angry, scared or sad?
How about any grown ups?
Okay so what’s happened to make emotional regulation or emotional waste management so difficult for us?
The one word answer is – REPRESSION!
In the past our society has actively encouraged people to bottle up their feelings.
“You sook! If you want to cry – I’ll give you something to cry about. Cry baby, cry baby! Real men don’t cry! Don’t you dare throw a tantrum! What are you – two? Control your feelings! Go to your room!”
When our kids were learning to go to the toilet did anyone say, “Don’t you dare poo in the potty! Don’t you dare wee in the toilet?” No of course we didn’t! In fact we celebrated their efforts and taught them everything they needed to know to regulate their own physical waste (and we got other people to encourage and help them too!)
I think it’s time we taught kids to do the same with their emotional waste – don’t you?
Here’s my suggestion on what to say…
Kids, when you think a Shady thought your brain releases a natural chemical that ‘showers’ the inside of your whole body with a bad feeling. There are slightly different feelings for angry, sad, scared, guilty, jealous etc but they all work the same… You experience something that you think or judge as ‘bad’ (Shady does this) and then your brain releases a ‘feel bad’ chemical.
The best way to deal with this ‘shower’ of bad feelings inside you is to let them wash through your whole body by feeling them. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like yelling into a pillow, yell. If you feel like stamping your feet then stamp your feet. Just remember these three rules:
This totally works at home where you are safe and sound and where I can talk to you about it afterwards to make sure your bad feelings are all out.
When you are at school or at a friend’s house or anywhere other than home however, it is not going to be appropriate (or okay) to cry, yell or stamp. So instead of letting your feelings wash through you in an active way (by acting them out) you can do it in a passive way (calm way) where it doesn’t interrupt others.
All you do is cross your legs at the ankles and ‘hook up’ your arms by putting them out straight with your palms back to back, crossing your arms over each other, clasping your hands together, pulling your arms up and under until your hands are resting on your chest.
When you are in this position, close your eyes and focus all your attention on how bad you are feeling on the inside of your body. Keep doing this until the bad feeling washes through you and leaves your body completely or almost completely. This ‘hook up’ position opens the right and left sides of your brain and body to allow the feelings to move through you quickly and smoothly.
If you can’t stand to feel your bad feeling right then and there, or you can’t hook up – you can stop the feeling going through you by using your self-control to ‘bottle it up’.
That’s when you put all the bad feeling chemicals that have ‘showered’ the inside of your body into an imaginary bottle inside you and quickly put a lid on them so you don’t have to feel them right now.
When you get home at night, you can take the lid off your bottle by talking and crying about what happened and I will be there for you. Talking and crying about your bad feelings pours them out of your bottle and out of you.
If you forget, or decide not to talk about and express those bottled up feelings and you do this over and over again until your bottle is FULL, then sooner or later the lid will fly off in an angry tantrum where you spray your bad feelings all over everyone else or alternatively the lid will twist loose and your bad feelings will leak into your body and make you sick.
Great listening! I’ll help you practice ‘hooking up’ and talking about and expressing your feelings in safe ways so you get good at regulating your emotions or feelings.
That’s basically what I’ve been teaching kids this week with the aid of a ‘hook up’ demonstration, a drink bottle, an open window to tip the water out of and a fair few of my acting skills to show them the difference between ‘spraying their bad feelings’ over everyone and expressing them safely and respectfully by crying!
Won’t it be lovely when everyone is trained to regulate his or her emotions? (I could make a joke here about ‘no more losing our poo’ but in the name of self-regulation I will refrain!)