Sunday, January 26, 2014

How does that make you feel?

Earlier this week I thought about how often Reid says "It's not okay, mommy" and "I'm not fine, mommy." Sometimes he shouts these statements before I even intervene, before I even have a chance to tell him how I want him to feel. "It's fine -- You're okay," I constantly tell him, hoping he'll graciously accept commanded feelings and we can all avoid the three-year-old dramatics.  

Thursday afternoon I decided to change my plan. I wasn't saving myself from any mini-tantrums and I definitely wasn't teaching my preschooler how to respond to the emotions he was having.

So for the past couple of days we've been having conversations like these:
-- You spilled a tiny drop of your milk? Sorry buddy, how does that make you feel? Wiping table clean. Was it easy to clean up? What do you think about that now?
-- Nell touched your neck and so you screamed at her? Are you angry or frustrated? Frustrated, do you even know what frustrated means?

Now, I don't want you to think I've been ignoring his feelings all together. Thanks to the beauty of Mr Rogers I do know it is important to help kids feel their feelings. We have a song we like to sing at our house when Reid starts feeling mad. It use to go like this:
When you're feeling mad and you want to roar,
take a deep breath (breathe deep),
and count to four, one-two-three-four.

But lately we've been singing it like this:
When you're feeling mad and you want to roar,
make a big toot (fart noise with mouth)
and toot some more, fart noise-fart noise-fart noise-fart noise
... because I'm totally inappropriate and I want my kid to be ridiculed for his unseemly personality. Actually, I changed up the lyrics because I found myself singing the song so often that Reid was tiring of it. And real fast. I came up with the goofy version in hopes that it would revive the magic of calming him down during moments of anger. And it worked. Too well. He loves the fart song, go figure.

But more than just the song, we take time to talk about being mad. Reid knows it is okay to be mad; it is just not okay to roar. He knows we all make mistakes and roar sometimes, even mommy. He loves telling me it is not okay for me to yell at him and Nell. And I'm grateful he plays that role.

But (yes, this English major is starting each paragraph grammatically incorrect) I realized I needed to go above mad and angry. We needed to discuss more than just scared and shy. He can cover up any feeling with the excuse of shy -- which he is not. Covering up feelings doesn't solve any problems. If he's nervous about his swim lessons but he tells me he is too shy to go with his teacher into the pool we are never going to solve his fears. And feelings of nervousness, or fears, are totally different than being scared. And they certainly aren't the same as shy.

There are a whole lot of emotions out there and three-year-olds feel them all. He may not know what it means to be frustrated, but he knows the feeling he has is something other than simple anger. He definitely knows he is not fine.

So I have to stop telling him he is fine. Even if things are going to be okay in the end, in that moment I need to kneel down to his level and ask him what is wrong, how he feels. I am going to take more time to try and help my little boy explore his feelings. The last couple days have been eye opening. The fits actually seem shorter now that I give him time to try and express himself.

Hopefully the end result will be control over his actions, even if he has to make a couple fart noises before he acts.

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