Everyday we run the gamut of emotions. There are so many feelings that we experience day in and day out. Some of them we don’t even realize we’re going through.
Now imagine if you’re life had just been turned upside down, if you’d been taken from your home and family and surroundings and plopped in the middle of another culture. Imagine if the new people around you didn’t smell the same, liked different foods, even spoke a different language (or, if they spoke your language, it still sounded different). Now that you’re in the foster care mindset, imagine the emotions that you’d have flowing through you.That language barrier is real. It’s real even when our foster kids speak the same language with the same accent… because all of a sudden, they’re surrounded by a different vocabulary… foster, adopt, severance, visitation, CFT, GAL, CASA, AD, caseworker, case plan, parent aid, time in care, best interest. There’s a whole vocabulary that comes with being removed from your biological parents. I think it took Brian and I about a year to learn who all the players were and what they all did. There are still times (one very recently) when I have no clue what the people around me are talking about when it comes to cases. And then I think about my kids. They’re young. How are they supposed to understand all that’s going on around them? Do they even want to? Do I want them to?
Understanding the system or not, they still had feelings about it all. Real, raw, huge emotions ran rampant through them.
And it was hard. There are days that it still is.
I strongly believe that one of the things that we must do for our children is give them an emotional vocabulary. We have to teach them to understand their feelings and emotions. If they don’t understand what they’re feeling, they can’t express it in a way that they can get their needs met. I’m sure that I’ve said it before, but behaviors come from feelings. When kids (and adults) are acting out, they’re expressing a need. And if we can’t figure out what that need is, we can’t help them meet it. If we can’t help them communicate their emotions, we can’t help heal the wounds. Seems simple, right?
I think that it’s even harder than it sounds. After all, as an adult, there are more than a few times that I couldn’t begin to express my emotions verbally. How do I expect my three year old to do so?
Well, the answer is that I can’t all of the time. But, I can start helping her where she is. I can start giving my children a vocabulary. I can teach them names for the emotions they feel. I can give them labels for all that stuff that’s churning around inside of them. And that is a first step.
There are a few ways that you can go about doing this. The first that I recommend is books. I love books. And there are so many cool books out there. Look for books about feelings in general, look for books about a specific emotion. We have several board books that are full of babies faces with great emotions. These are killer tools in teaching an emotional vocabulary.
Want to go a little more hands on?
I love this toy! http://www.target.com/gp/detail.html/ref=s?asin=B001QVAWRS
I have one of my own that I bought through www.uncommongoods.com. Basically, it just has cool little dudes that have facial expressions to match feelings that are written on the back. How cute and fun are those? I’m sure they could be home-made, too.
My favorite tool, however, is a game that the Bean and I invented. One of us will close our eyes, the other will make a facial expression. Then the one who has closed eyes will open up and try to guess the emotion that is being displayed. I love this game because it gives us one on one time really looking at each other and it’s teaching her emotional vocabulary words.
The final tool that I’ve used with my kiddos is an emotion chart. Basically, it’s a scale from very upset to very happy. And I let the kiddo tell me how they’re feeling that day/minute/activity. It’s a chance for them to stop and think about their emotions. It’s not my favorite tool because there are so many emotions that don’t really fall on that scale, but it is another tool. And in this commando parenting adventure, I like to have as many things to try as possible.
I hope that this finds you feeling emotionally fulfilled 🙂