Welcome to Session 4 of OWN YOUR MIND BUSINESS, where we are learning to equip our kids to recognize and wrangle their thoughts and feelings, and in the process, learning to do the same ourselves!
It’s no secret that our daughter Emily, now 28, has lots of feelings. She feels deeply about all the things. And I love that about her. I truly believe it’s a strength and a gift. But for her to use that gift for good, she had to learn how to identify, process, and express those deep feelings in a healthy, productive way. She had to develop SELF-CONTROL in this area of her life.
SELF-CONTROL: ownership of the space between thoughts and actions, between feelings and behaviors
If you’ve been a part of the Fearless Mom Community for any time at all, you’ve heard of Emily’s now-infamous marriage to her imaginary husband Michael…when she was 3. Yes, Emily and Michael had a tumultuous relationship. One spring, Emily and I were shopping for sandals in a small shop near our home. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Michael had very strong opinions about Emily’s wardrobe. Particularly her shoes. As soon as I suggested she try on the white sandals, Emily screamed at the top of her lungs, “Michael doesn’t like white sandals!” I was so surprised by her response, so I repeated, “Why don’t you try these on? I really do think you’ll like them.” Emily simply increased her volume and slowed her speech to make her point. “MICHAEL DOESN’T LIKE WHIIIIIIITE SAAAAANDAAAAALS!! He likes THESE,” she said, with great emphasis, pointing to the rainbow-colored sequin Birkenstocks. To which I replied, nearly matching her in decibels, “MICHAEL DOESN’T MAKE DECISIONS IN OUR FAMILY!!”
Then, the sweet young girl who’d been attempting to help us asked, “Um, who is Michael?” I paused, took a breath, and answered in a much softer tone, “Well… he’s her imaginary husband.” I could barely get the words out of my mouth. To say that I was mortified would be an understatement. I had screamed at my child in public about how her imaginary husband needs to mind his own business and stay out of family decisions. We immediately left the store. As I said, Emily felt ALL THE THINGS very deeply. And her IMPULSIVE REFLEX was to yell and scream.
When our son Joe was in 6th grade he played on a football team with a coach who intimidated, shamed, and punished the boys to “motivate” them to play better. Many of the boys quit within days and weeks of the start of the season. Joe kept playing, and when we’d ask him how things were going, he had only good things to say. Mac started going to all the practices and standing as close as he could to the field to hear everything that was said and to see what was going on. The coach was definitely gruff and used a tone and language that was different from what Joe had experienced before, but Joe seemed fine.
Then he started having headaches and nausea pretty regularly. He had to miss some practices, and we took him to the doctor more than once to see if they could figure out what was going on with him. One day, Joe’s closest friend’s mom said to me, “Julie, I think I know why Joe has been feeling sick. I think it’s football.” Her son was on the team, too, and we had been having ongoing conversations since the start of the season. So, Mac and I sat Joe down and Mac said, “Joe, we think we know why you’ve been having headaches and throwing up. We think it’s because of what your coach says and does at practice.” Tears filled Joe’s eyes and he said, “I thought y’all liked him.”
I explained that we were watching and making sure Joe was safe, but that he seemed to be enjoying playing, so we didn’t want to say anything. I said, “I think that you want to play and you want to obey your coach, but that the way he embarrasses the guys and talks bad about your friends who’ve quit makes you uncomfortable. So your stomach is kind of in a tug-of-war. You want to play and obey, but you know what he’s doing is wrong.” It was terrible. But we told Joe that we learned something important that could help him. When he feels like he needs to throw up or when he has a headache, he should ask himself, “Am I nervous? Am I worried? Am I afraid?” He learned that his body could tell him when he needs to speak up and say something. When he needs to trust his thoughts and feelings and speak up.
MINDFULNESS and SELF-AWARENESS are so important when it comes to developing SELF-CONTROL with productively expressing our feelings.
- MINDFULNESS: being fully aware of the present and fully aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment or comparison
- SELF-AWARENESS: seeing yourself as you really are
Later on, in Emily’s life, she would again want shoes she couldn’t have. But, as she got older, she didn’t yell and scream in the store. She was just as sad and frustrated, but no yelling and screaming or blaming Michael. She’d learned – and is still learning – to OWN the space between her thoughts & feelings and her actions & behaviors. She doesn’t feel or care any less, but she’s learned how to PAUSE FOR POISE, and how to STOP, THINK, AND CHOOSE.
Later on, in Joe’s life, he would feel nervous, worried, or afraid. But he’d recognize the physical signs of headache and nausea and consider whether or not these symptoms were caused by any feeling he may be feeling. And he’d work to identify, process, and express that feeling in a healthy, productive way. Like Emily, he’d learned – and is still learning – to OWN the space between his thoughts & feelings and actions & behaviors.
I’m over 50, and I’m still learning. Because I’m still feeling feelings! As long as you’re feeling feelings, you’ll need to work to own the space. As we said before, this is a life-long process. We will never reach perfection, but perfection is not our goal. Perfection is not our job. Our job, our responsibility as moms is to do our best to set our kids up for their best. And we’re looking at a strategy called CBP, Cognitive Behavioral Parenting to do just that.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL PARENTING: proactive strategies that help children understand their thoughts and feelings and how those thoughts and feelings affect their actions
Just as… Thoughts are POWERFUL but not always ACCURATE.
We know that… FEELINGS are REAL, but not always RELIABLE.
CATCH THAT FEELING!
Catch it! See it! Look at it with no judgment or comparison (mindfulness).
Again, modeling and saying words aloud when you’re feeling something is a great way to expose your child to this concept. Normalize feeling all the feels. Begin building emotional vocabulary as early as possible. Start with the big 4: happy, sad, scared, and mad. You’ll be amazed at what kids pick up on!
NAME IT, CLAIM IT! Claim ownership of it!
Put it in its place! Feelings shouldn’t be in the trunk or the driver’s seat. Strap it in the backseat and keep moving forward!
Some helpful sayings for this practice are:
- I feel ____ right now, but I won’t feel ____ forever.
- Feeling ____ isn’t fun, I know. But feeling ____ can help me grow.
- A feeling is a STATE, not a TRAIT.
- “I feel ____.” Not “I am ____.”
Feelings EXPLAIN. Feelings do not EXCUSE. The goal is an INTENTIONAL RESPONSE to a feeling instead of an IMPULSIVE REACTION.
My IMPULSIVE REACTION is to _______. (Yell, scream, hit, stomp, run away, keep it to myself, pull away, isolate, or avoid)
My INTENTIONAL RESPONSE is to _______. (Choose to be CALM and COURAGEOUS. Pause for poise. Stop, think, and choose. Take deep breaths. Take a walk. Write down my feelings and planned words.)
THINGS TO CONSIDER as you equip kids to CATCH THAT FEELING
- Pray for wisdom, discernment, and common sense. Read Proverbs.
- Follow their lead. Don’t put YOUR feelings on them. Model and give an opportunity to express.
- Work hard not to be hurt or offended their feelings. This is not about your parenting. This is about your child’s feelings.
- Get comfortable with their being uncomfortable. See discomfort as an opportunity for growth and development.
- Work on catching your feelings. Model working through it. Apologize for impulsive reactions and discuss how you’re working on intentional responses.
- Create a home that is SAFE, SIMPLE, AND SILLY. Play games. Go for walks. Watch shows together. Read books together. Schedule downtime. Schedule family time.
We’ll talk more in the next session about various proactive strategies to use to GUARD THE GAP – that space between thoughts & feelings and actions & behaviors. In the meantime, work on your own INTENTIONAL RESPONSES. The best thing you can do for your child is to be the best and healthiest YOU this week!
We will continue publishing lecture notes from our OWN YOUR MIND BUSINESS series on the blog, but for more Julie Richard stories and an expansion on the ideas above, check out the OWN YOUR MIND BUSINESS eCourse!