Our identity is not the way we feel. The way we feel is a state of being.
I am not happy. I am feeling happy.
I am not frustrated. I am feeling frustrated.
I am not mad. I am feeling mad.
There is a difference.
Let me explain.
When we say, “I am,” we immediately identify with whatever word comes next, inadvertently defining ourselves. This is an inaccurate label. Who you are is not happy or sad or frustrated. It is a feeling state that fluctuates from minute to minute.
While we may not think much of it at the time, there is something powerful neurologically that happens in the background. Every time we repeat, “I am”, a neural pathway is created that identifies with what you said as if it were something you are rather than something you feel, and every time you repeat it, you strengthen that circuit in your brain.
We see this type of language in our children’s books, in homes, in schools, their favorite TV shows, and on social media. Our words matter because, quite literally, our cells are listening. Our child’s brain architecture is directly influenced, too, and what we model, children absorb.
This is where most social-emotional programs go wrong in my opinion. They allude to the idea that we are one emotion or another. But really, we have all of these energies inside of us at all times. The question isn’t how do we stop unpleasant feelings so that we feel pleasant ones, but rather, how do I balance all of the energies that live inside me?
Most of us adults are learning these concepts right alongside our children, becoming a pivot point for our lineage. This is why multi-generational social-emotional learning is significant. These tenants include self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The path is from the heart to home to classroom climates to the collective culture, and back the other way.
Surrounded by brain research, we created tangible, practical, play-based SEL tools for the home and classroom. It is you who brings the tools to life, with your loving intent, modeling, and guiding. And we don’t have to be perfect at it because we won’t, and there is power in being imperfect.
How do we balance our emotions?
Emotions are energy in motion. When we avoid or suppress them, they become stuck in the body, but when we acknowledge and accept them, they transform. This is exactly what we are helping our children do - to notice and confront their emotions in supportive ways.
Here are a few ideas for adults and children to balance their emotional energies:
1. Pause and notice.What emotion are you feeling right now? What thoughts are you thinking? What is your body communicating? Where are you holding your tension and where are you relaxed? Your awareness alone is the first step in organizing your energy systems.
2. Model emotional intelligence by using “I feel” statements.When you link an emotion to an experience and share it, you rewire circuits in your brain and, because your children are watching, they absorb these skills, too. In naming our emotions, we are able to tame them. Try this when you feel a pleasant emotion and see what happens. Then, try it again when experiencing an unpleasant emotion. How does your energy shift? How does the energy of those around you change?
3. Create a “to feel” list.Most of us have a “to-do list” that subtracts from our time, attention, and patience each day. Starting the day with an intention for how you want to feel, instead of what you want to do, helps with three things: 1) staying grounded and mindful, 2) setting boundaries, and 3) increasing your emotional capacity when faced with your triggers and your child’s dysregulation.
4. Create mantras using “I am” statements. Write down affirmations and post them around your home and workplace, say them when you look in the mirror or when you wake in the morning. The more you repeat your “I am” statements, the more you speak to your subconscious mind and re-train your brain. Energy flows where attention goes, and whatever follows “I am” starts the creation of it.
1. Talk to your children about emotions.Using feelings posters and games as found in the Time-In ToolKit creates a safe space where you can guide your child through emotional learning. You may choose to explore concepts such as what different emotions feel like in the body, labeling them, and tools for processing unpleasant emotions. You may also share with your child that we all (even us adults) have big emotions, that all feeling states are temporary, and that we can change our feelings with our thoughts.
2. Practice regulation.Creating rituals in your Calming space is a proactive way to practice social-emotional skills via play and connection. The SnuggleBuddies plush toys are a tangible and fun way to come together and share, “When did I feel happy, sad, calm, and mad today? This primes you and your child for when a meltdown or challenging situation does arise. After a dysregulated moment, the My Feelings Card Set can be used to help your child process what happened, how they felt, and calming strategies.
3. Consider words in books. Read through books beforehand and see if they represent the lessons you want to teach. You can also choose to edit books when you come across limiting language for a more empowering message.
4. Practice mantras with your child.Using the PeaceMakers cards, connect with your child in playful ways around their feelings and ideas. Each card delivers unique, affirming messages and is brought to life by centering conversations, activities, and stories around the themes.
Emotions happen all day long, and we are designed to feel a full spectrum, with none being more desirable or better than the other. In fact, all emotions are useful and informative. They teach us about our patterns of thinking and they influence the lens through which we filter the world. And this is how we change the world, hand-in-hand with our children - being Generational Cycle Breakers and feeling all of our sacred emotions.