Seems a little weird to think about, doesn’t it? Teaching kids how to feel. I mean, most days it seems like they have that part down pretty well. Their emotions, especially the unpleasant ones, fly out of them as all sorts of behaviors. They whine, cry, hit, snatch the block, or use their whole body to communicate their wants and desires.
Our emotions are energy in motion. They are always looking for a way to be expressed. Our children know how to feel the sensations in their bodies, but they have yet to learn how to share them in productive ways. So when I say “teach kids how to feel, " I mean orienting them to notice and communicate in healthy ways instead of suppressing and denying.
A pretty tall order for us parents - to teach how to feel, especially when we were taught NOT to feel. That’s where I was… standing in a big puddle of “What do I do now?” until I found the Time-In-ToolKit. Having all the feeling posters and activities in one kit seemed like a really good starting point for me – a busy mom who really didn’t have time for more on her plate.
Fast forward to receiving the ToolKit and reading the manual, it became clear that these tools weren’t only to help me guide my son, but they were a compass for my internal climate too. I had this a-ha moment, realizing that parenting my son started with me. Him managing his emotions started with me managing mine.
The first thing we did was set up our family Calming Space together, hanging our posters, and filling the area with a cozy bean bag, stuffies, mantra cards, sensory toys, and other activities my son favored. He was excited to have a nook in the house that was dedicated to “mama time” as he called it. We spent weeks taking little trips to our space, reading, cuddling, coloring, and basically following my kiddo’s lead in play. I found that these moments became the balm to our sometimes stressful days.
Because play is so motivating to our children, I decided to use it as a starting point to teach my son about his feeling sensations. We began with the basics – happy, sad, calm, and mad. We talked about what those emotions felt like in our bodies. We played feeling bingo and charades. We mimicked our feeling faces in the mirror. We read stories, pausing to notice the characters’ feelings. And, for a few minutes each night before bed, we shared: When did I feel happy, sad, calm, and mad today?
Now am I going to say that when my son had a meltdown he automatically went to his Calming Space to share how he felt… no. Sometimes he initiated it. Sometimes I did. Sometimes he wanted to go. Sometimes he didn’t. But the more we practiced, the more he seemed to make those connections. And because I have been reading up on brain development, I trust that as we prime his brain with repetition and consistency and as he matures neurologically, he will be able to access all of our co-regulation experiences to self-regulate down the road. While he may be a 20-year-old-something at some point with emotions similar to his two-year-old self, my hope is that he will be more prepared to know how to feel and express them given the foundation we are establishing now.
When it comes to me using the ToolKit for myself, am I going to say that it totally curbed my adult meltdowns? No. There are times I yell or resort to impatient parenting. Those generational cycles are hard to break. I like to think of myself as a work in progress. But the more I practice using the Corner myself, the more I am able to model self-awareness, boundaries, and emotional control for my son.
I will never be a perfect mom, and there are many things that I will surely do that cause me to wonder if it was the “right” thing. But this, this I know deep in my soul that I am on to something here, everyday building connection with my son as I parent and re-parent our home.