I work in the church nursery on Sunday mornings. I choose to work in the hardest classroom, you know the one where mothers are literally pealing their crying toddlers off of their shoulders, and as they hand them off to me you can hear everyone start into the song of distraction. The chorus is familiar to us all, “You’re OK, you’ll be fine, shh,shh,shh. Look, a ball (or toy, or bottle.)” It doesn’t feel good to us as we are saying it or to the child who is hearing it, and there is a really good reason why…we are lying to them!
When children are going through highly charged emotional moments, our mirror neurons kick in. The function of these mirror neurons are to ensure the caregiver actually feels the emotional or physical need of the child and respond to that need. Instead of labeling the emotion and helping the child manage it, we start singing the song that was sung to us…”You’re OK, you’ll be fine, shh,shh,shh. Look a ball (or toy or bottle.)” It’s no wonder, years later when those big emotions erupt in us, we find ourselves singing the grown up version of the song…”Snap out of it, what’s gotten into me, I shouldn’t feel this way. Look a sale…” (or a new gadget or a bottle…of wine!) Why are we all so messed up when it comes to emotions?
In the book Managing Emotional Mayhem, by Dr. Becky Bailey, founder of Conscious Discipline, writes: “We often tell children how they should feel instead of encouraging them to be aware of what they are feeling. When we do this, we begin to build a secondary system that says, “I will tell you how to feel and think, which thoughts and feelings are allowed, and how to express them. I will be your guidance system, not you.” So, in looking back in your own life, how were emotions addressed in your family? Were you saved, ignored, dismissed or even punished for having feelings? Which feelings were you allowed to express and which ones were subtly, or maybe not so subtly denied? I encourage you to look at the videos Dr. Bailey and Amy Spidel have on YouTube. They are funny reenactments of how we are all given mixed messages when it comes to understanding our emotions.
So, how do I start teaching children to manage their emotions? Every Sunday when that mother hands me her crying baby, I take him in my arms, take a deep calming breath and then one long, calming “Shhhhhhhhhh” as I exhale. Then I tell him the truth, “It’s so hard when mommy leaves, she’ll be back, you’re safe, keep breathing. You can handle this.”
Wishing you well,
National Conscious Discipline Certified Trainer
Training Director for the Early Childhood Education Institute at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.
Concepts adapted from the Conscious Discipline® program by Dr. Becky Bailey. www.Co