There was a time, not so long ago, when my daughter (currently 8 years old) did not like to talk about uncomfortable feelings like sadness, fear, and especially shame. She didn’t like talking about her own feelings or other people’s. Whenever I mentioned feeling words or started to guess people’s feelings, she would ask me to stop and sometimes even run away, particularly if it was about her feelings.
Then, the other night, something happened and I expressed some frustration that wasn’t aimed at her and she started blaming herself. I asked her not to take it on, told her it was my responsibility too and that there was no need for her to blame herself. She turned to me and said:
“Mummy, just let me feel ashamed!!”
Well, I was stunned. I thanked her for the reminder, sat her on my knee and held her as the feelings moved through her. Then we talked about it and it was all over.
Emotional intelligence in our children comes from how we model it to them. If we are not allowing ourselves to feel uncomfortable feelings, then that’s what they are learning to do as well. Every time we reach for food or wine or the phone or blame or analyse instead of connecting with our feelings, we are teaching them to do the same.
As an adult, learning to really feel my feelings has been a process and a journey. In the early years of this journey, my kids thought it was a bit weird and rather funny. If I guessed the feelings of kids at school that they told me about, they would say “No mama, he’s just mean!”. Then I noticed my son starting to use more feeling words about himself and others and asking me to hug him when he was sad or to stay with him when he was angry.
And finally, my daughter, the one who would run away with her hands over her ears yelling “la la la la” at the top of her voice at any mention of feelings words is now using them to talk about her own feelings and to guess other’s feelings. And finally, this… the hardest feeling of them all to let ourselves feel: shame.
I’m sitting here writing this and marvelling at how far we’ve come as a family in just a few years. It takes commitment, it takes practice, it takes vulnerability and it takes courage but my god, it is so worth it!
The gift we can give our children is ourselves.
By fully showing up, being present, being open, being honest, being vulnerable, being brave…. we are giving them gifts that will stay with them all of their lives. The tools to cope, come what may, to seek meaning and purpose, joy and satisfaction, peace and connection.
What more could we want for our children?
printed with permission of my daughter
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Filippa Araki regularly facilitates workshops on Self-Compassion and Compassionate Communication (Nonviolent Communication, NVC). She has been teaching communication for 25 years, including 13 years in Higher Education. She has been doing intensive study and training in NVC and related work for several years and is not far off being certified as an international trainer.