Unmasking Big Emotions

While the global pandemic isn’t officially over yet, most of us (and our kids) have had to launch out of lockdown and hit the ground running again – this time, with masks on.

While these masks might help contain the spread of the virus, they’re also a stark reminder of how much has changed in a relatively short period of time.

It’s not just our faces that are hidden from one another, but our weary hearts and emotions. All of us have been through a crazy time – our kids too.

I was freshly reminded of this a few nights ago when my little tween had a not-so-little meltdown. I tried to remember all my Brené Brown reading and listen, really listen. This is what I heard:

“Mom, I’m trying really hard, but life feels overwhelming. I just never feel like I’m on top of things…If this is Grade 5 – I don’t know how I’m going to do another 7 years of school! It feels like we’re having to catch up all the time. It’s just not fun anymore.

And you know mom, I might act fine, but I’m actually really sensitive inside. Sometimes my friends say small things that cut deep. It makes me wonder if any of them really care about me… I’ve got lots of friends, but sometimes I feel really lonely still.

And mom, you know how sometimes my room gets messy and I need to spend a day sorting it out? Well, it feels like that in my head… like there are all these crumpled-up papers and messy toys everywhere. There are so many things I’m worried about – and things I wanted to

start and then finished – and they’re not going away, they’re just piling up. Do you know how to help me clear out the clutter in my mind?”

Now, I know that not all kids are this articulate, but this particular kid was a Boss Baby from the minute he swaggered out of the womb, dressed in a suit and tie, holding a cigar in his chubby little hand.

He really, really said all of the above.

And I’m guessing he speaks for a lot of kids at the moment (even if they don’t say it)… just like us, our kids are trying really hard, and life can feel really overwhelming at times.

I did some more reading and chatted to a school counselor to find out how best to help my little guy deal with his big emotions. It turns out, the steps he should take are the same for all of us – no matter our age or stage.

So here are some things I’m going to try to practice and preach to my kids over the next while:

YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS

None of us wants to see our child unhappy, but the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove the stressors that trigger it. It’s to help them learn to recognise and regulate their feelings, even when they’re not nice feelings. Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of might make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces their fears over the long run.

Remember, our job is to prepare our kids for the road, not the road for our kids.

YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID

Emotions are one-size-fits-all… feelings like worry, sadness, and happiness don’t come in kiddie and adult sizes. A 10-year-old can feel just as overwhelmed or sad or angry as a 30-year-old. So let’s not minimise our kid’s problems based on their youth or the relative size of their problem compared to our own.

Listen to your kids when they talk about how they feel, and validate those feelings by not being too quick to tell them not to worry or solve their problems for them…

Rather, reflect what they have said back to them, and ask more questions (empowering them to think for themselves how to solve their problems).

For example, you might want to say, “I can hear that you’re really feeling overwhelmed/anxious/sad/angry… those are heavy feelings to carry… is there anything you can think to do that might make you feel a little less overwhelmed/anxious/sad/angry?”

At the same time, it’s important to understand that validation doesn’t always mean agreement. If a child is terrified about going to the doctor, it’s right to not belittle their fears, but you also don’t want to amplify them.

Listen to their concerns, then encourage them to feel that they can face their fears. The message you want to send is, “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay. I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this.”

WRITE YOUR WORRIES AWAY

To help to declutter his mind, I’m going to encourage my boy to journal more. This might not work for everyone, but I’ve found the practice of regular journaling to be a joyful, transformative process.

For a child, keeping a journal is similar to confiding in an imaginary friend. It creates a private outlet for their fears and anxieties and can help shrink the problem by allowing the writer to better articulate their innermost feelings, thoughts, and goals.

When it comes to journaling, there are three different kinds I like to use:

  1. A to-do list journal… this kind of writing relates to productivity. Write down all the big and little things you need to do, and tick them off as you go. If you remember something you need to do in the future before going to bed, write it down so that your mind doesn’t have to hold it for you while you sleep.
  2. A diary journal… this kind of writing relates to posterity. It’s where you can reflect on any given day or week or month and write down what you want to remember from it. It’s the ideal place to express some of your fears, reflections, and hopes.
  3. A morning journal… this kind of writing relates to creativity. The author and artist Julia Cameron writes about this kind of journaling as ‘Morning Pages’ – a habit best done first thing every morning on a daily basis. The idea is to wake up, open your morning journal, and write a couple of pages of any thoughts that come out of your head. Some days—it might look like a to-do list, over days—like a memory, or poem. Whatever comes out, it’s what happens inside that counts: a clearer mind, processed emotions, and a sharper level of creativity too.

I’m going to take a little bit of time out to teach my boy a little more about journaling, all the while, reminding us both that we can do hard things, and that every feeling we may have along the way is valid.

Perhaps you want to do the same mums?

10 thoughts on “Unmasking Big Emotions

  1. lisebotshilwane says:

    I love this article, I make use of a journal to write down my thoughts, worries,achievements, goals,
    It helps alot,especially if you have no one to talk to,

  2. Yogaspari says:

    I love this article especially since I have a 10 year old son as well. I know things are tough on children since lockdown started. As a single parent, I have been concerned about his emotional well-being and encouraging my son to speak about emotions. I have to admit it’s tough. He’s so closed off at times. I love the idea of journalling. I am going to encourage nim to keep a journal from tomorrow. I love articles like this which are very informative. Thank you

  3. omhle90 says:

    I have learn that is is okay to be week and vulnerable. You do not have to be strong all the time and thats okay. Usually the people we think are strong are the ones going through the most especially in this pandemic. Great article. Many thanks.

    #Mumbox #October #BreastCancerAwareness

  4. crystalhydes34 says:

    Thank you for this article. The kids are going through so much and its beautiful that he confides in you. I think it’s so important that they have that support and love.

  5. MasterMalachi says:

    We living in a crazy time indeed so overwhelming for all of us. I Love the ideas given will definately try this with my son. A to-do list journal helps me to control the anxiety of things getting out of hand. Wow did I Love this Very Informative read ☺

  6. Roxy says:

    I think journal can be quite useful especially to write down our feelings, emotions etc the pandemic has caused alot of disruption amongst us and having a to do list also helps to keep our minds/priorities in order

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