Anyone who has spent any length of time with a toddler, preschooler, young child, or even a teenager will know how explosive things can get when our emotions build up inside without any means of expression. A toddler tantrum may, on the face of it, seem very different to a teenager slamming the door behind them in frustration, but the energy behind each outburst is the same – pent up emotions that we struggle to release in any other way.
And it’s not just kids who struggle with this, is it? As adults we often find ourselves catching our tongue, holding something inside that really we need to get out of our system. We have grown to know, for the most part, that throwing ourselves on the floor in a flood of tears or screaming in somebody’s face isn’t really going to get us anywhere, but are we really any better at dealing with our emotions than our children, or are we simply more adept at hiding them?
Just recently our family has been dealing with some really challenging emotions. It has manifested in different ways for all of us – I become extra weepy, Tim closes up, and WB has been “misbehaving” in ways that we know are far more about gaining attention than actually wanting to do what he is doing. Now, more than ever, we need to focus on expressing our emotions, enabling us to not only get it out of our own systems but also to help each other understand where we’re at and how we’re feeling.
But how do you do this in a way that a 4 year old can understand?
Earlier on this year I mentioned how WB joined in one of my meditations where we focused on expressing various adjectives to describe ourselves, saying “I am” and then choosing a positive affirmation (such as brave, kind, loving, strong etc). WB really seemed to enjoy it and it reminded me of an exercise Tim had taught me years before following a Shamanic workshop he had been on. In it, each member of the group took it in turns to say “I am [their name] and I feel [insert a sound]”. Then the entire group would repeat the sound, acting as both a mirror and support.
One of the things I loved about the latter exercise was that by choosing to express sounds rather than trying to verbalise feelings in words, the entire thing became much easier. Sometimes we know exactly how we feel but no words seem to express that as well as a scream, shout, sigh, or laughter. I also loved how repeating the sound back emphasised the idea of acceptance and support, that it was perfectly okay to feel this way and that the group was really listening and taking on board how you felt. There was no need to “find the right words” to offer support, for it was implicit in the action itself.
So when it came to finding a way to help both WB and ourselves express how we were feeling and communicate both our frustrations and our love and support for each other my mind automatically came back to these two exercises. And so The “I Am” Game was born.
We kept it very simple for WB – I asked him if he wanted to play The “I Am” Game, which immediately caught his interest, and I explained that we would take it in turns to share who we are and how we were feeling. I started with “I am mummy and I am tired”. Straightaway he announced, “it’s my turn now” and told us “I am WB and I am happy” before turning to Tim and saying, “your turn daddy”. We continued like this for several minutes, moving on from “I am” statements to “I feel” sounds. WB even took it one step further and started adding some actions to his sounds, which was wonderful.
The entire game seemed to give us all so much for so little input – we spent quality time together, listening to each other and sharing how we all felt. It gave us all a chance to vent frustrations in a safe environment, knowing that we wouldn’t upset or offend each other, and taking turns helped us to focus on how we’re all equally important and deserve to be heard. And it opened up a space for us to discuss our emotions further, if we wanted to.
I knew it had been a lovely exercise at the time and intended to try it again a few days later, but WB beat me to it and actually asked us if we could play The “I Am” Game after dinner the next day. I consider that a win, don’t you?
Tell me, how do you deal with big emotions in your family?
I’m joining in with Share The Joy again this week, as it is such a wonderful linky that never fails to inspire me and warm my heart. Last week was a really tough one for us, but playing The “I Am” Game really helped us find our way through and for that reason it brought me a lot of joy.