Our feelings chart is a staple in our household.
My husband and I both struggle with our emotions – for him, to identify them; for me, to regulate them, especially in conflict. This has been a source of stress throughout our marriage and we continue to have to work hard at this, so when we were establishing common grounds for our parenting journey, we were on the same page on equipping our children with the skills to identify and regulate their emotions well.
I am not an expert by any means; I am just a tired, imperfect mother trying to break the cycle for my kids. We are Christians, so parenting our children biblically is our primary goal. Secondarily, we have tried to parent our children respectfully and gently from the start.
My husband and I set firm boundaries on behaviour that is not acceptable to us, but not on their feelings and emotions. As such, our children are allowed to express their emotions as long as it’s safe to do so. My 5.5yo son struggles with articulating his emotions, so we have to work very hard at it!
When he was younger around 2+ years old, we would share about something that made us feel happy and something that made us feel sad in the day during our bedtime routine. As he grew a bit older, we started to expand his vocabulary from “happy” and “sad” to other emotions that made us feel good (excited, proud, thankful) or not so great (angry, disappointed, scared). We started to introduce the nuances between each emotion. He is still quite touch-and-go with talking about his emotions, but the feelings chart is useful for him. Just yesterday, he was having a hard time with a transition when we were out and I whipped out my phone to show him the feelings chart and he was able to point out how he felt to me at each point.
We still have a lot of work to do around that. My ideal scenario is for him to be able to sit down and calmly tell me about his feelings and the story behind them so we can problem solve together, but of course reality doesn’t work like that. He often expresses his emotions through ways that are triggering to me (rudeness, avoidance, whining). I know that those are his calls for help, so I am also still working through my own triggers and emotions so that I can regulate them to be empathetic and kind when responding to him. I remind him that we are on the same team, and this seems to relax him in stressful times.
Once he identifies his emotions, he often still needs a good amount of time to process them. This usually takes about half a day and right before bedtime, he will then be ready to talk about the issue while I listen. I ask him for suggestions on how to work through the issue at hand, and offer guidance only when necessary. For example, if he had a conflict with a friend in school over the keeping of toys, I would ask how he would handle it in future, and more often than not he is able to articulate a course of action that would have a more positive outcome. Prayer is an essential part of this process as well.
None of this is easy or natural because this whole process usually comes with some form of frustration from me as well, and what I want to do is often not aligned with what I actually do. While trying my best to raise emotionally intelligent children, I am learning so much myself.
A few days ago, he came back from school and told me “Mommy, when we were reading the second story in school today, I felt scared (there was a crocodile). When we were listening to the song, I felt sad.” It might feel like such a small thing, but it felt like such a big win for us as he is rarely willing to verbalise his emotions in this way. It gives me hope that we are making strides towards the right place.
Of course, a feelings chart, or the books and resources I have read will not magically produce children with perfect emotional skills. I am not naïve about that. But I am thankful for the resources I have today that my own mother did not have. I only realised this when I became a mother myself, but my mom was a fairly respectful parent herself, even in the absence of resources. While I am learning so much in my mothering journey, she too is willing to learn with me, and to grow together with me. I am thankful for that.
May we all be ever willing to grow for the sake of our children and grandchildren.