It was after a very long day of battling my ten-year-old when she finally crawled into bed and I felt defeated. We had fought over E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. She had been defiant in everything I’d asked of her, mean to her sisters, and quick tempered. And I was tired. But I did not want to end the day this way. There have been too many nights that I lay in bed and think about how sad or lonely the girls might be feeling as they lay in their own bed because of a disrupt in our relationship.
PROBLEM: Child was explosive, angry, and incredibly feisty today.
So I sat in her room on the floor in the dark. She was exhausted too—and finally ready to talk with me. It occurred to me to ask her about her feelings. “What are you feeling, sweetie?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she responded quietly.
It’s true. It’s hard to identify feelings. Sometimes, it’s just plain tricky to know exactly what we are feeling. So I gave her some possible words to express herself: mad, sad, lonely, frustrated . . .
She answered right away, “I’m lonely.”
Whew. There’s some progress. “Why are you lonely?” I asked.
“Because I’m not with my friends. I only get to be with my friends when we’re at school. I just want to be with my friends more,” she said. I was happy she had such good friends and that she wanted to be with them. This was very different from her pre-home school days.
“Yeah, that’s hard to not be with your friends all the time, isn’t it?” I asked. “But you have your sisters here, so you don’t need to feel so lonely.” (I should have said something like, “Do you feel lonely around your sisters?” rather than solving her problem for her right away.)
“But my sisters annoy me and are mean to me. They exclude me,” she said. Okay. Valid points there.
I knew that “lonely” fell in the “sadness” category, so I then knew which main emotions we were dealing with here. I explained to her that when we feel sadness, it is a message to us that there is something we need to let go of. “What do you think you need to let go of?”
“I am not letting go of my friends!” She shot back angrily.
“You don’t need to let go of your friends,” I explained. “Maybe you just need to let go of the longing to be with them all the time. The idea that you need to be with them 24/7.” (Letting go of concepts, ideas, and hopes is hard to explain to children!) “You can let go of that desire to be with them at all times. That way when you are with them, you are enjoying it. And when you are home away from them, you can still be happy.”
She thought about this for a moment. Then said, “Okay.” I walked her through a visualization of pulling out the sadness from every particle in her body and gathering that sadness in her hands. “What does it look like? What color is it?” I asked her. She gave me a color and a shape. I asked her where it should go, letting her decide. “In the trash can in outer space.” So I let her attach it to a balloon that floated all the way to a trash can in outer space.
Then we took a big breath together. The load was lifted; there was lightness now. We could both feel it.
SOLUTION: Identify the true emotion, ask the question that will uncover that emotion’s message, and act on the answer.
This was a monumental experience because 1) this girl goes from happy to angry and angry to happy, and this was the first time we recognized she had sadness that was being expressed as anger. And 2) this was the first time this girl was actually was able to talk about her emotions and feelings. Perhaps it was because this was the first time I was able to be a soundboard for her, rather than a hot-tempered, power-charged parent. But either way, this was the first time she got to explore her emotions and practice processing them.
It took about an hour to talk through all this and let her process it. Her younger sister of eight years was in her own bed, sharing the room, and watching and listening to it all, contributing a little every once in a while too. I was exhausted, but the time spent was worth it. For all three of us.