Name that Feeling…

Just a few minutes ago, I was reflecting on the moment when I first told someone that something in my life scared me.  It was my best friend J.  We were sitting in band class in 7th grade, and I had just told him I was scared to go home.  I was scared…

As I thought about this, I realized that it was the first time I was ever truly aware enough of my feelings to verbalize them to someone else.  Sure, in the past I had felt sadness, been lonely, felt disgusted, been embarrassed, but I don’t remember ever having a conversation about how I felt with anyone.  I remember telling my parents when I was in physical pain, but other than that, we didn’t talk about feelings.

Another momentary flash and I understand it all…I never thought, or talked, about how I felt because no one ever gave me the words!  No adult ever gave me the tools I needed as a child to be able to reflect on my feelings and identify them.  I didn’t know that happy and sad had names.  It certainly never dawned on me that I could talk about how I felt to an adult or anyone else.

I don’t remember talking to the counselor that day.  I remember going to her office, her asking me what was wrong, and me responding that I didn’t want to go home.  The next thing I remember is being at my locker, which was in a different building.  It was in between classes, and I was gathering my belongings – hoping that no one would “catch” me.  I knew my mother was coming to get me, but I was still afraid my step-mother or father would show up any time and stop me from going with her…

As I discuss all of this with a friend, I finally understand why for the first time in my life (that I am aware of), I blanked out part of an experience – I was terrified.  It was the first time in my life that I was ever truly afraid for my safety, and I feared the consequences of telling so much that I blanked out the entire event…

Today, I spend a lot of time talking to youth about expressing how they feel to others.  I also talk to adults about how to listen to, hear, and value what young people have to say.  It is very important that our young people know that they have a voice, and that they learn how to use it – not only this, but that adults learn to value the feelings and opinions of young people.

If you are a parent, be sure to talk to your child about feelings.  Help them learn to express them verbally.  Listen to your child.  Hear what they have to say, and read between the lines.  Help them express difficult concepts in simple, concrete terms that they, and everyone around them, can understand.  Validate their words by repeating them, as well as letting them know you understood.  Make sure they realize that you hear what they have to say.  Always be supportive.

I know that feelings aren’t always comfortable, but giving your child the ability to talk openly about how he or she feels will open so many doors for them. You will empower them to make choices based on their feelings and instincts instead of blindly following others.  You will give them the tools they need to talk about the difficult issues in life, and hopefully, these tools will be help keep the dialogue between you open once they become teens and young adults.

Most importantly, giving your children the ability to name and talk about their feelings also gives them the ability to recognize unsafe situations and have the courage to voice their concerns.

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