Four Words to Change the World
It's getting warmer out! Soon we will be at the beach... and kids will be building sandcastles! And inevitably, those sandcastles will be destroyed by another wild child running through them, kicking sand everywhere. And that's a normal beach experience. But so are all the big emotions that come for our kids in that situation - and a million other situations.
How do we handle our kid's big emotions? How do we respond? What happens to our children when we don't respond well... and what does that do to us as adults when we were never taught to HAVE, FEEL, or SHARE our big emotions?
Childhood mental health lays a foundation for adult mental health.
Listen today as we discuss ways to help our kids HAVE, FEEL, and SHARE their big emotions, so they know how to as adults. It's easier than you think. It's four words. Four words that could change their world... Four words to change the world.
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Where I am, it’s getting nicer out. Warmer, sunnier… just beautiful. It’s getting to be that time when we plant our gardens, open our pools, get the lawn chairs out of the shed, and set up the patio.
Soon, the beaches will be lined with sunbathers and swimmers and sandcastle builders. I was imagining this scene on the beach, and I ended up picturing and a children building sandcastles. Meticulously dumping over their bucket in just the right place, to build yet another tower that will have them hunting around for the perfect twig to hold the makeshift leaf flag. And I saw them digging around the outskirts of their multitowered castles, to make a moat… because what is a castle without a moat.
But what scene, involving multiple children on a beach, and sandcastles, doesn’t also include that at least one rambunctious child full of energy who goes running through the middle of the castle, kicking sand everywhere?
And perhaps that’s a typical beach experience, for many families over the years of their trips there. But it got me thinking about what happens immediately after that moat breach and enemy attack.
And that’s the next scene that unfolded in my mind.
The scream of disbelief bellows from the architect. The tears, the harsh words, the slump of defeat, or the chasing of the enemy for a counterattack. All while the emotional outburst continues to surge. Anger, frustration, sadness, betrayal even.
Eventually though, between parents joining the chase to try and break up the next war, and the shouts from the towel going back and forth between scolding the assailant and soothing the engineer, there is the moment of reckoning with the loss.
And I started doing an inventory of what we, as adults, normally relay to our sad and defeated castle builder at this time. Phrases that sound like this:
Awe honey, you can build another one.
Don’t be sad.
Don’t let this ruin our day.
You had to know your brother was going to do that. He does it every time.
I mean, they aren’t crazy, unrealistic replies to use in this situation. I’m sure most of us have said them or similar. And with great intention. We were looking to soothe, calm, re-start our child back to a happy go lucky, sandcastle-building kind of mood.
And that’s a great intention.
But as we’ve been talking about in our staff meetings lately, intention and impact are very different things.
Having good intention… does not mean at all in the slightest, that it will have good impact.
I tried to take the same kind of scenario then and move it to a more adult kind of circumstance to see how those phrases would impact if we tried them out then.
Let’s say you just spent the day working on your garden. You shoveled the topsoil on, turned the ground over and over to mix it all up. You planted your seeds in neat little rows and put up your markers to know where you planted what. As you stand back, filthy with what used to be dirt, but it is now mud due to your profuse sweating, you smile as you hold the hose, gently watering your masterpiece.
All your pride in a day’s hard work, mixing with so much hope for a full and plentiful harvest to come… and then your neighbor come comes tearing through on their 4-wheeler.
Kicking up dirt as they do donuts in the middle of the garden. Seeds flying everywhere. And they laugh as they give you a wave and say see ya later neighbor and ride off.
Lots of emotions springing up in that moment, right? Anger and frustration, disbelief, outrage. But you can’t chase a four-wheeler… so you sink to your knees and drop your head and bring your hands to your face. You can’t believe it. What just happened?
But here comes your partner. Surely, they will understand and help! In some way! And they come and kneel beside you and put their arm around you and say:
Awe honey, you can prepare and plant another garden.
Don’t be sad.
Don’t let this ruin our day.
You had to know our neighbor was going to do that. He just got that four-wheeler.
Now that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
I know for a fact, that if that scenario were to play out at my house, I would have seen my husband chase a four-wheeler. Now, not on foot mind you… but I would have seen Ian hop in a truck pretty fast, I’m sure. And upon return he would tell me what was said, but also, he’d check in with me and want to know how I was and what I was feeling and what I wanted to do about the garden now.
Why is it that we assume that children don’t need the same thing from us?
The empathy, the backing up, the intervention, the allowing of our experience emotionally, as well as choosing a plan from here.
I know that in a lot of cases, we just don’t see the big deal. I mean, it’s just a sandcastle after all, isn’t it?
Well, it was just a garden too, wasn’t it?
Here’s the thing… when they are little, it is just a sandcastle. Which might not seem like a big deal to us. But it is to them. And one day when they grow up, there is going to be more big deals for them to deal with. And what we don’t want is our voices in their mind saying:
“Awe honey don’t be sad.
Don’t have your feelings.
Don’t feel your feelings, and surely, don’t share your feelings with others.
It could ruin your day… and worse yet, it could ruin someone else’s.
We wouldn’t say that to an adult in pain, would we?
Well, sadly, we don’t have to. They will say it to themselves if that’s what they’ve been taught as a child.
Now please, for every person who cares for children who is mortified right now because those are phrases you say, or have said… I have something to say…
I’ve said them too. And still do.
This is not an episode on how to be a perfect caregiver for children. I can’t teach that. Ask my children and they will back that up. Probably pretty quickly and with examples.
But I think there is something to be said for learning what we can and growing. Becoming more aware of ourselves, and the people around us.
Because it is this important… that we begin thinking about our children, knowing that much of their adult mental health is being formed in our hands while they are still young.
While we are putting so much focus on areas such as their IQ, we need to remember the importance of their EQ – their emotional quotient or their Emotional Intelligence. And their emotional intelligence is their ability to understand, use, and manage their own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.
And you can jump in here and say, “but many adults don’t even know how to do this” …
Yes, because they were not taught as children.
And you can learn this as an adult, which would allow you to be able to teach it to a child, but if you know this as an adult, you need to see it as a gift, that children deserve to receive. It is the gift that will keep on giving.
Imagine if that child who had their sandcastle destroyed was met by an adult who came down to their knees beside them on the sand and said, “I saw what happened. How are you feeling?”
That’s one question. One question only. And it allows for what ever is going to be the answer.
That one question can be a dam breaker. It could destroy a dam that was holding so much back from a multitude of experiences. Experiences that were met with many typical reactions from adults…
Like repression. Being told to stop crying, being given a look to smarten up and pull it together, being told not to be so dramatic. Or just even being shut down when trying to communicate. Those things teach children to repress their emotions.
And the thing with repressed emotions is, that they don’t vanish. They just get pushed down. And they will try to come back up again. Future experiences will remind them that they are there, and they will try to resurface… but they ways in which we repress them often change.
They begin to look like another glass of wine, or hours and hours sleeping, or constant scrolling the phone, or substance abuse, or being SO busy, that you just don’t have time to feel them.
Sometimes we don’t see the repression and withdrawal in children, but we see the aggression.
When they aren’t invited to have and feel and share their emotions, and they consequently felt scared and powerless and without a voice, when they weren’t able to repress and instead those feelings just simmered right below the surface… only to be activated when scared again or threatened.
Then the burst of rage and physical attack and loud, mean words. Then labelled the bully, the troublemaker, the one who will ruin the day for others. When all they were doing was responding to what they were taught to do with the emotions. Which wasn’t lash out. But it wasn’t to have them and feel them and share them either. So, they do what they can, not knowing a better way… or a safer way.
And this continues into adult hood and looks like bullying still, just in a new atmosphere. It looks like domestic violence, critical thinking of ourselves and others. It looks like fights and trouble with the law.
And this is a huge topic. There is lots to do with emotional intelligence and child development. Lots and lots! These are just some thoughts. Something to think about. Something important to consider and take into account as we learn the best ways to take care of ourselves and each other.
Because if we can do more of what we are talking about today. If we can learn to speak and respond to children in a way that allows them to have and feel and share their emotions, we are going to have happier healthier children. Who become happier and healthier adults who when they have big emotions, go to their journals, and let them all out, acknowledging and allowing for them.
We will have adults who call a friend and say, hey, can we talk for a bit? Do you have time for that right now? We will see people who call a counsellor because there is no shame to be felt in having big feelings. And they know they are allowed to share them. They know they deserve to talk about it.
Listen, if you are a new parent and you think this isn’t a big deal, because your kids won’t have big emotions. You’re just going to keep them happy. Because it isn’t hard after all to keep kids happy. Let me tell you, that’s a great plan. And it will work, right up until you give them the green cup instead of the red one. Or you put 17 chips in their sister’s bowl when they only got 16 and a broken one.
You can keep them happy until the yellow crayon is too short, they can’t keep the 37 snails they found on a walk, or their favorite stick breaks.
Your kids are going to have big emotions. Over things that don’t seem like a big deal to you. But it really is a four-wheeler in their garden. The best thing in the world we can give them, is a safe place to have them.
“Tell me about it” could be the most used phrase you get to use with a child. Besides, “I love you”, and the one I had to use while raising my son Jesse, “come get this frog out of the laundry room”, which would be followed up by him saying, “there he is. I had him in my pocket”.
Listen, I’ll be the first to tell you that I have not done what we are talking about today, well enough, and enough times, to tell you that I am the one you should try to be like.
Again, I’m saying we can do better only when we know better. So, let’s keep learning together. Because I didn’t always know this either. But I learned it. And I started trying to apply it the best I could once I learned. And at first its something to try and remember. But then it becomes just the way you do it.
And someday you’ll speak to your adult children, and they will say things like my son said to me the other day… Jesse was talking about some feelings he was having. And because he is safe to do so, in talking about them he also had some questions about them. And we could openly speak back and forth. And at one point in the conversation, this man I have been privileged enough to raise said to me, because he is FULL of self-awareness, “that sounds like a very abstract thought for my inclination to think concretely… I may need some help with that”.
And that was one sentence. But it struck me. There was so much self-awareness in it. And I was proud of him. But for him to be able to vulnerably know it AND own it AND share it out loud made me so proud of our relationship too. One little phrase he said that was so FULL of meaningful evidence, in him being provided the space and opportunity to have and feel and share whatever is in him.
And a few days after that conversation with Jesse, I sat on the deck at my other son’s home, with him, his fantastic girlfriend, and two wonderfully awesome friends of theirs. And I use the term friends, but the truth is that they are a family. They are their own family unit, and I couldn’t have asked to witness anything greater.
There was nothing going on. No special occasion and no planned get-together. They just had time off and chose to spend it together. And one by one as people came in, they were greeted with a hug and a genuine happiness to see them. I listened to them converse and noticed how safe they were to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions on any matter. They were heard. They were validated, and they were encouraged to say more.
I don’t know if they were all taught that by their parents. Statistically speaking, probably not. But somewhere along the road, and maybe it was between each other, someone taught them that it was important to have and to feel their feelings. And between them, they were safe to share them.
And as I drove home that evening, I got thinking about all the people who talk about this world getting worse and worse and there being less and less hope for our future generations. And I smiled… cause I just drove away from where the hope lies. And its in those who have learned what we are talking about today.
That we can raise kids who know that their feelings matter. That big feelings are safe to have if we know what to do with them. Those kids become adults who know that to still be the case, but they turn around and teach each other, and the generations under them.
You cannot change the whole world by what we are learning together today. But you can change the world of a child. Who will keep growing and impact the world of another. Who will impact the world of another… and that’s how the world changes. That’s where our hope lies. One impact at a time. And watching it spread.
So, adopt one new phrase into your vocabulary today, if you will. And watch it catch fire.
“Tell me about it”. Four words to change the world.
I love you guys. Keep taking care of yourself and each other. Until next time, good-bye for now, and we’ll speak again soon.