Friday, October 11, 2013

Family First Friday---Emotional Band-aids.

This week on Wednesday, I went to my dentist's office for a cleaning and check-up.  As I visited with my dentist and the hygienist, our conversation turned to our families, particularly our children.

The dentist was explaining how one of his young daughters (age 3-5) needed a band-aid for everything and that she was always 'wasting the band-aids' when she really didn't need them.  I balked at his comments and told him it was important to nurture and validate their feelings and emotions and if a band-aid could do the trick, then it wasn't 'wasted'.

He laughed and agreed they were 'emotional band-aids'. LOVED these!
Let's just talk about that for a minute.

We help our children become emotionally healthy adults when we acknowledge their tender feelings regardless of their age.  Feelings are simply a product of our thoughts and experiences, the interpretation or meanings we give to our experience, interactions, and thoughts.  Who is to say how we should feel about anything??  Are you the feelings police?!  Me either.

A few weeks ago I went to watch a football game at a friend's house.  I was explaining to her how emotionally high maintenance our little Spike, Spike is.  (He is two.)  My friend works in the medical field (I think she is an ultrasound tech??!).  But she told me there is a part of the brain that controls your emotions and that by the time you are two, it is fully developed and functional.

Think about that----two year-olds can feel all of the emotions adults can feel, yet for the most part the rest of their physiology is not developed enough to express those feelings, or to understand them, or to reason through them.  Terrible-twos anyone??  What could be more frustrating?!  I have all these feelings, but I don't know why, or exactly what they are, or what to do about them and I can't even explain it to you because I don't understand it myself!  Augh!  Yes---I think I would have terrible twos too!

But we also have to remember that even though we need to validate our own feelings, and those of our children and spouses, sometimes we have misinterpreted information and therefore, our feelings, though valid, may not be accurate.

For instance, let's say I compare myself with Sister Perfect Housekeeper (comparisons are not usually emotionally helpful anyway!).  Every time I visit her home, it is in immaculate order.  I have heard other people make comments about how beautiful her home is and recently she taught a class entitled 'Spotless Living'.  I am no where near a perfect housekeeper.  I consider it a major accomplishment and I celebrate if all of the laundry in a week is finished or if the children actually wash the counters and the stove top when it is their turn for the dishes.  I cannot tell you the last time I washed windows and I recently realized it would help the children if I expected them to dust in their bedrooms (go figure!).  But if I take that information and use it to determine that my self-worth comes from how well I keep my house, I could quickly become depressed.  Because in this comparison, my feelings are valid.  I am not a great housekeeper.  I can use some work in that department.  But the truth is:  My self-worth is not determined by how well I keep house.  My feelings are valid, but inaccurate.

Sometimes, a lot of times, we need to help our children walk through these emotional discrepancies. Because you bombed a test, forgot your homework, crawled out of the wrong side of the bed, people laughed at you for your clothing or your beliefs, you wrecked the car, or yelled at a friend----none of these things make you a bad person or someone who is unlovable.  Difficult to deal with?  Sure.  And you may feel guilty for behaviors you should change (like yelling at a loved one) or hurt because of how others have treated you (laughing at your beliefs), but when we interpret those feelings to determine our value to humanity, those thoughts would be inaccurate.  We ALL have value.  We ALL have gifts to contribute, whether to the entire world, or to just one person.  We are ALL lovable and we can ALL change negative behaviors and become the kind of person we would like to be.

We should try to validate our children's feelings and the feelings of others.  After listening or while listening, identify the feeling, validate it and ask them if this is what they are feeling.  Examples could include:  That would be so frustrating!; Did that comment hurt your feelings?; Were you excited?; Did you feel warm and fuzzy when he said that?; I would have been angry too.  Give them their emotional band-aid!

Especially where negative emotions are involved, see if they are misinterpreting information that if considered may lead to different, more positive feelings within your child. 

Recently I read Chieko Okasaki's book: Being Enough.  I feel this story illustrates beautifully what we are talking about.  I quote Sister Okasaki, pp 131-132:

Sometimes what we're really good at is being unable to distinguish the important stuff from the unimportant stuff and then beating ourselves up over the unimportant stuff.  I was so grateful for a mother who could tell the difference when I read Wendy Udy's article in the Ensign about her fifteen-year-old daughter, Adrienne, who had come home from a stake conference feeling horrible about herself.  The mission president, who had been the last speaker, had praised the daughter of the family in whose room he had slept the night before.  He had described the neatly arranged desk, the tidy shelves of books, dolls, and stuffed animals, the andy note cards on which she had written scriptures, and a card tied to her lamp on which she had written "I am a daughter of God."

In contrast, Adrienne's room was undeniably a mess: "Clothes spilled out of the closet lay everywhere.  Her school books were scattered on the floor.  Her desk was cluttered with containers of hair spray and perfume, candy wrappers, old seminary homework, and an empty piggy bank.  The bulletin board above her desk was loaded with pictures of friends and rock stars; it tilted at a rakish angle because of the baseball cap hanging from one corner of it."

Her mother could only agree:  Adrienne's room was a mess.  But Wendy didn't agree with Adrienne's conclusion.  Contrasting her room with the excruciatingly tidy room occupied by the mission president, Adrienne, in tears, wailed, "I'm no good....That girl the mission president was talking about [is] a perfect person with a perfect room...Nobody would ever talk about me that way.  I'm no good, and I know it...I'm sick of perfect people.  I'm never going to church again."

Tenderly, this mother held her daughter and reminded her that the piggy bank was empty because Adrienne had paid for lunch for a friend who had no money.  And one of the smiling girls on the bulletin board had tried to commit suicide, calling Adrienne after she had taken some pills.  Adrienne made her throw them up, insisting that she hold the phone by the sink so she could hear her.  Then she made the girl call her sister, then called her back and stayed on the phone with her until the sister arrived.  

Wendy reminded her daughter of that experience and what it revealed about her heart.

"Adrienne managed a smile.  'Maybe I'm not so bad then?'

" 'You're not bad at all,' [Wendy] said, hugging her. 'Sometimes daughter of God can have messy rooms, and he loves them anyway.'"

I love that story.  Adrienne's feelings were valid, but her conclusions were not.

As our children learn what they are feeling is significant and valid and how to evaluate if their feelings are accurate, they will become a better emotionally functioning adult.

So go ahead and give them their emotional band-aids.  They are probably more significant than the ones they use for scrapes and bruises.

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