So on Monday I introduced you to the idea of sitting with your hedgehogs (your emotions). It was a great description that helped me to understand a new way of interacting with my emotions.
But what I discovered for myself, for my kids and with an increasing number of the families I work with, it’s difficult to sit with your hedgehogs and name your hedgehogs if you’re not actually clear about what emotions you’re having in the first place.
In fact, when my husband and I first stumbled across this concept he said, “there’s two emotions, right? The one where the lips go up is the good one and the one where the lips go down is the bad one?”
So to be able to be successful at sitting with our hedgehogs we had to go back and learn about our emotions – about what they were called, and how each one felt. To do that, we found diagrams like this one to be a helpful starting place:
But after a while we realized that these diagrams didn’t go deep enough, really.
So we took it a step further and tried to capture ourselves making different faces, to try to help us recognize and identify the feelings that we were having.
This made a really big difference, but then we wanted to pass it on to our kids.
And they didn’t want to read books about emotional intelligence – because they were 12 and 15 – and they didn’t want to look at silly emoticons – because they were 12 and 15 – and they were never in a million years going to let us take pictures of them making different faces – because (did I mention???) they were 12 and 15!
But we realized that we could offer them language for the things that we saw, and in this way draw attention to their emotions, teach them a deeper understanding of themselves, and convey acceptance and value of their emotions to them.
We found that we still had to be careful how we phrased these – they couldn’t sound like a criticism or a complaint or a rejection of them. But slowly, slowly, slowly we started to be able to introduce comments like:
“It looks like your shoulders are tight, honey – are you feeling stressed?”
“That incident at school sounds really hard. I think if it was me I’d be feeling pretty angry right now.”
“Thanks so much for telling me about your day! I’m elated just listening to you, I can’t imagine how you must be feeling!”
Do you get the general idea?
And it turns out that giving kids language for their emotions is a really important step in parenting (it’s okay, I missed that class to begin with, too!) In fact, giving each other language for our emotions is helpful in many of our close friendships and intimate partner relationships.
This language is a form of joining, a form of compassionate curiosity that helps us to understand the people around us – and ourselves – better and better.
And most importantly, it gives us the words to be able to learn how to greet and sit with our hedgehogs when they come to visit, and to hear the important truths they have to say.