Today is the first in a series of Monday posts describing The Language of Sunflower.
Over the next five weeks, we’ll discuss many of the ways we communicate at Sunflower. We’ll talk about how we handle apologies, praise/encouragement, teaching respect, and talking about feelings, including anger (hint: parents and teachers, it’s all about modeling). Most importantly, we’ll give you real, concrete examples so you can add these tools to your Parent Toolbox.
The fact is, many (maybe most) people are not comfortable talking about emotion. A lot of us were raised to ignore or play down negative emotions. Even extra-exuberant positive emotions make some people uncomfortable. (Double rainbow guy: inspiring or awkward? Debate.)
Our daily interactions and conscious thoughts are really just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is humans are emotional beings, and the way we feel often directly influences the ways we react to situations (whether we like it or not). We’re also social beings, so our feelings are not just our own–they affect our relationships with other people (again, like it or not).
Listening, Naming and Validating
Teaching your children to acknowledge and name their emotions is not about being all touchy-feely for its own sake. It’s about giving them real-life relationship skills. Understanding feelings builds empathy. It even helps children to develop their intuition and trust their own perceptions–basic, critical survival skills.
So we do talk about feelings at Sunflower–a lot. We acknowledge them and validate them (even, especially, the ‘negative’ ones), but we don’t dwell on them.
“You feel really sad. You miss your mom right now. Do you want to draw a picture for her while we’re waiting for her to come back?”
Much of the language we use to talk about feelings is influenced by the theories of child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott, as described by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish Elaine in their How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk books and workshops.
Susan teaches entire workshops on these techniques too, but really it all boils down to this: we listen. Really listen, no distractions. Resist the urge to judge or offer solutions, just listen. “Your honest, simple ‘Oh’ or ‘I see’ tells your child, ‘Your feelings, all of them, are important–the good and bad. They are all part of you. Your feelings don’t shock or frighten me.’”
Everybody wants their feelings to be heard, accepted and validated. Often just naming an emotion is enough to change the whole energy of the situation.
So you’ve named their emotions, now what?
Next we show them how to use healthy, appropriate outlets for their feelings–both the positive and negative ones (even excessive joy sometimes needs a way to escape the body!)
Get outside! Research shows that just being in nature for even a short amount of time is a stress-reliever. Nature also provides a great big canvas for them to really spread out and experience joy with their whole bodies, and all their senses.
Just add water. This really is a great, all-purpose suggestion. Water is an ancient symbol for emotion, so it’s only fitting. Throw your child (or yourself) into a bath, shower, in the pool, outside with the hose. Go for a walk on the beach or to a lake in your neighborhood.
Leave them alone. Sometimes children just need time to themselves to sort through their feelings, and letting them do so (while reminding them that you’re there in case they do want to talk) is empowering.
Be a model. Hey parents, all these tips go for you too! Allow yourself to really own your own feelings, both positive and negative, and then show your children what that looks like. Proof that being a parent really can make you a better person.
I use the techniques I’ve learned from Sunflower parenting classes with my children–but also with my husband, my friends, my co-workers. As an adult, I really value the ability to have open, honest communication with people I care about. Knowing my feelings and being able to talk about them helps me to set boundaries and maintain healthy relationships. I often think–in what ways would my life have been different if I’d had these tools starting when I was Seedlings age?
© Jaime Greenberg and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011
Photos © Jaime Greenberg, Haidor Truu and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011