I work with kids everyday – no joke.
Not only am I a homeschooling mom, I also teach dance classes, volunteer at church and provide foster, respite and adoptive care for the state of Wyoming. I literally work with kids daily. Bragging isn’t usually my thing; but, I wanted to share so when I say I see a trend, you know I mean it. Kids today are missing the needed vocabulary to talk about emotion. Forget, being able to connect those feelings to what they do and why they do it.
Kids today don’t know what they’re feeling.
In fact, even when they read a book they have zero context in which to emotionally connect with a character. General comprehension questions during reading time aren’t digging deep enough. They aren’t asking kids to consider why a character did something or how they might have been feeling. This in addition to the emotional detachment that comes with increased electronics usage is leading to an emotional disconnect. Which I feel is a trend that is guiding kids to grow into adults that have no idea WHY they are doing anything. This to me is a BIG problem.
If your nodding your head yes and thinking, “I know what you mean!” Then keep reading because I am going to share with you the three ways we are working to change the tide with every kid we have the blessing of parenting.
We give them the words.
When we watch TV, a movie or read a book (yes, I still read to all the kids, no matter how old they are) I say out loud what I’m thinking in my head or what I’m feeling. A character rips into another character – I go, “Wow! That was rude. I wonder why he felt like he needed to say that.” Sometimes that’s all it takes to start a conversation. When a football player does a little dance in the end zone; I promptly share, “That is awesome, he must be feeling really proud right now.”
Do I sometimes feel slightly silly – yes, but dropping those bits of description is building their feeling vocabulary. Think about when a kid is learning to speak. The adults around them walk around pointing at things and naming them – car, book, bird, house, pumpkin, etc. This is the same idea only with feelings and let’s be real we didn’t feel silly walking around pointing out the obvious then and we shouldn’t feel silly about doing the same thing with feelings now.
When we have dinner together (about 1-3 times a week) we share 1 good thing, 1 bad thing and 1 feeling word that sums up our day. This is great for several reasons. Sometimes we only have good things and that’s okay. Sometimes we have only bad things and that’s okay too. These prompts lead the child to a feeling that can be put into words which takes us to the “feeling word”. This one seems to be the challenge for even my more social kids; especially when I won’t let them use words like “boring” or “awesome” every time.
When they get stuck we offer them a child’s version of a feeling wheel to help them put words to what they are feeling inside. Don’t have one? Don’t even know what a feeling wheel is? Download my favorite one here. As we go around the table EVERYONE participates, even the adults. I’m going to warn you that this can be intimidating but it’s also possibly the most empowering thing you can do in your home to create an environment that is open, safe, encourages connecting feeling to actions, and sets the ground work for empathetic thinking.
Feelings are real things – they take up space and energy inside us. When feelings get big or have been piling up with no outlet for awhile they overflow. This can happen many ways; but in my experience 85% of the time they explode into some violent act. A fist threw the wall, a shovel to the cold smoker, a knife to a solid-quartz counter-top (yes these things really have happened). When these things happen, it’s easy to resort to grounding and taking things away but to most kids that doesn’t really matter and rarely is it enough to prevent a repeat occurrence because the heart of the issue hasn’t been resolved.
They don’t know how to deal with the feelings that led to this moment in time. The reality is that all the coping tools in the world and the best therapist on the planet won’t be able to do much either if the child cannot put into words the feelings that led to the explosive moment. How do we change that?
Here’s what we do. When there’s been an explosive event we layout that there’s going to be a conversation and let them know that it will happen in the next 24 hours. Then we pull out my favorite Behavior Reflection sheet, (Laura Candler’s one for school is who inspired the design of mine for at home) – get my version here. This can be difficult for your average kid to fill out at first, but they can. The key to success and continued change though is to get them to talk through it and discuss things deeper than just “I was bored” or “I don’t know”. If this is a struggle for you or the child seems resistant just get them to fill out what they can and get a therapist involved. A good therapist can take this ground work and help move things forward. Rarely do we see the same behavior repeated after one of these has been filled out and explored through with us and/or the therapist.
I know this might seem overwhelming so I’m going to encourage you to start with just one thing. Try it for a few weeks and then add a second or third. You might already be doing something similar and I want to hear about it. Share your experiences and ideas on teaching emotional connection in the comments below.