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Feelings, oh-oh-oh, Feelings!

March 28, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
"I'm really mad!"

"I'm angry! I want to stomp my feet!"

"I'm sad. I want to cry!"

"I'm fus-trated! I can't do it!"

Yes, these are direct quotes from Emma, who just turned 2 two weeks ago.

What's got her feathers ruffled? Oh, you name it. She doesn't want to leave Grandma's house. She doesn't want to take a bath or eat dinner. She doesn't want her diaper changed. She wants to watch a DVD but she's past her time limit. She wants a cookie right before dinner. She doesn't want to put a shirt on.

Like I said, she's 2. Nothing out of the ordinary.

What I think is interesting, though, is that she's telling us she's sad or mad. She also tells us when she's feeling happy or silly or — my favorite — proud. Nothing makes my heart swell like when she accomplishes something, like putting together a puzzle, and exclaims: "I did it! I'm proud!"

I don't know if that's normal for her age or not, but according to my mom, who teaches parenting skills to troubled families, it's healthy. (It's also rather amusing when she gets in a snit, but we try to keep our snickers to ourselves!)

I attribute Emma's eagerness to verbalize her emotions to a book I bought from Discovery Toys called "The Way I Feel" by Janan Cain. Each brightly illustrated page depicts a child who is feeling a certain emotion, and four rhyming verses to go with it.

For example, a closeup of a cross-looking boy on a fiery red background is accompanied by the verse: "Angry is how I feel right now./I shout with a mighty roar./I just want to frown and growl/and stomp upon the floor."

Emma really identifies with that one!

There also are pages for happy, sad, silly, frustrated, excited, jealous, thankful, proud and disappointed. When she was 18 months old, she could tell me the emotions by looking at the pictures. Now she can recite many of the verses, too.

I think it's great that Emma is open with her feelings, but I'm a touchy-feely kind of person who wears my heart on my sleeve and enjoys analyzing myself and others. I understand some might find the book off-putting — one comment I heard was: "That's a really dark book. It's depressing."

Well, maybe. Except for the happy, thankful, silly and proud pages. I guess if you're uncomfortable with the emotions of jelousy, anger, disappointment and frustration, it might seem wrong to teach those emotions to a toddler.

But I feel strongly that it's better that they recognize those feelings and learn to express them verbally than not. Because what are the alternatives? Learning to ignore your emotions and lashing out, perhaps physically, instead? Emma has been a biter and is still a bit of a hitter, especially when you pick her up when she doesn't want to be. But I have seen a decrease in her physical outbursts at the same time as I've noticed an increase in her verbal skills. Coincidence? Makes you wonder.

As I opened my mail this morning at work and read through the Northern Panhandle Head Start newsletter, I was drawn to a piece titled "All feelings are OK," provided by the Healthy Child program of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Here's a snippet:

"Preschoolers who know many different 'feeling words' are better able to express their emotions by using their own words rather than through challenging behavior, such as hitting and kicking. ... Talking about feelings honestly and by using everyday words will make it easier for children to learn about feelings. You can help children express and deal with their feelings in a positive way and then they will understand that all of their feelings are OK!"

OK. That's good. Now if I can just convince her to put on a shirt ...


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