name those feelings (feelings: part 2) – (adoption)

I am well into adulthood and frankly I still have trouble labeling how I’m feeling when things aren’t quite right. Anyone with me on this? I feel that if you haven’t been in psychotherapy on a weekly basis, you might have difficulty nailing what exactly it is that’s making you so gloomy.

Our kids who came from a complicated past and suffer from attachment issues don’t have the words to identify what’s going on inside themselves. It can be almost impossible for our children to pinpoint what exactly they’re feeling and these emotions are both feelings that the body produces: butterflies from anxiousness, tired, hungry, full; and internal feelings: disappointment, jealousy, anger, joy, hope.

They are also afraid of those senses and want to stuff them deep inside. Some of our children may show excessive anger through rages and other types of behavior, but getting them to label what’s causing them to act that way can be more trying than catching a Swallow on a summer day. The great news is that we can help our kids identify what they are feeling. We begin by naming their feelings for them. Following are some ideas on how to help your children.

If we see your daughter dealing with an emotion, say it’s her brother’s birthday and she becomes very distraught, it may seem like she’s just angry, but it’s likely there’s another emotion that’s at the base of that anger.

She may be feeling jealousy that her brother is getting more attention than her.  Talk to her about how she might be feeling. You can be more attentive to her, but remind her of how your family celebrated her last birthday, or that her birthday is coming up. (If your child wasn’t with you for her last birthday, there is this great article about having Birthday Re-Do’s). A girl or boy in this circumstance may be disappointed that they aren’t getting presents, but their sibling is. You can say, “Are you disappointed (use the word “sad” for younger kids) that Joey’s getting presents, but you’re not?” Then go on to talk about her birthday.” For specific instances like this, you can purchase a very small gift for the other child. Because of their background we don’t want to leave them out, even if it is a teachable moment.

If you notice your child acting out and it’s past dinner time, then you give him something to eat and he becomes happy and kind, you can say, “You were hungry weren’t you? It’s not okay to (list behavior), come to me when you feel hungry.” You can also try to explain what hunger feels like. I would save the explaining for another time, when our words aren’t short and concise, our hurting children lose focus. Their brain is capable of understanding, but they have a zillion thoughts going through their head, and your verbose explanation isn’t one of them.

If your child is left standing alone at school, you can say, “ You’re probably feeling lonely, I know I would be. I’m sorry that happened to you.” Reinforce your love for them through actions and words.

Here are some ideas of fun ways you can teach your child to recognize what emotions they are experiencing:

  • Play games at the dinner table. Take turns making faces of certain emotions and have the person across from you guess what it is.
  • Books. We have found two fantastic books that have helped our daughter, Payton, label her feelings. She chooses them from her large selection of books often, and they are FUN!
    • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
    • Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
  • APPS:

It’s also good for your child to see that you have feelings too, that you aren’t perfect and happy all the time, unless you really are. If you’re sad, you can occasionally tell them, although only share why if it’s appropriate.

It can be very difficult to get beyond the rage or sadness to identify what is really at the root, but I encourage you to look for it. If you can help your child label what they feel, you can move on to the next steps which will help them heal.

I leave you with this quote from The Whole-Brain Child, “When Tina explained where [her son’s] feelings were coming from, [her son] began to develop some awareness that let him take control over what was happening in his brain, so he could begin to reframe his experiences and his feelings.”

Check out the first part of this series:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
be available (feelings: part 3)
just deal with it (feelings: part 4)

Look for the follow-up posts in this series next week. You can receive them in your inbox by subscribing in the upper right corner of this page. If you haven’t yet, you can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.