Isn’t it funny how we can be cruising along in our parenting lives, and then suddenly we have a new tool and it’s as if we’ve gotten a new lease on that life; and then just as suddenly, some months later, we realize we’ve gotten out of the habit of using the tool and we’ve gone back to having a harder time because of it? It was so slow and incremental that you can’t quite trace when you lost access or gave up reliance on that awesome tool. Then just as suddenly as before — there it is and it’s like you’ve discovered it and its graceful wonders all over again. Surely you’ve had the same experience, whether it’s that trick you were using to help baby get to sleep, or that way of handling negotiations with your toddler that worked so well, or the game you had for making room-cleaning so much fun for the 5 year-old.
Well almost 6 years ago, our daughters taught us a cool trick with our Feeleez poster.
As you can see from the video, after some issue or communication breakdown, the girls go to the poster — most often it has been with a parent, but sometimes on their own as well — and begin to just point out the feelings they are/were having with respect to or during the less successful interaction(s). They take turns, go back and forth, add to or revise the estimation(s) of their feelings, and generally get pretty involved with the emotional exchange — so involved, in fact, that they usually utterly forget what they were fighting about or struggling with and just focus on the emotional content. Once that has been shared and processed (together!), if there is still any issue at all (because most often there is not), then it is quickly dissolved in easy, emotionally-grounded discussion and reestablished rationale. It’s almost like dealing with steady-minded adults at that point, rather than feeling-crazed little tornadoes.
Well, even though we invented the poster, and have one constantly hanging near our living room, and have had such incredible success using the poster-interaction technique our own daughters taught us — we still have to remind ourselves 6 years later — this tool is awesome! It really still works for us in such an amazing way. It still helps our girls get some insight into their own feelings, and each other’s, and makes room for a spontaneous experience of empathy that was inaccessible just moments before, and a smooth transition out of upset and disagreement and back into co-operation.
Recently, Echo and Xi had some trouble. They’d just come back from Soccer practice (for Echo) and were coming into the house and Echo’s feelings got bunched up about how they were entering the house, and they struggled to work it out. They did, and even reconnected afterward, but the energy was still a little off-kilter — emotionally bruised, I sometimes think of it. So not long after, they were back in an upset mode and unable to move forward. And out of nowhere, I suddenly remembered — “Hey! There’s that cool poster thing we can use…”.
I got the girls to come over and I stood behind them as they began talking about the feelings they were having. I gave each empathy in turn — not trying to give them any information about negotiation techniques or ideas about how to handle the situation — just empathy: “Oh, so were feeling that one (pointing to an image on the poster that one of the girls had indicated)? Dang… Oh, and you were, too? Wow so you two both had this one feeling?” and so on. Then without ever addressing the actual issue(s) the girls got to process the emotional content and move back into a state of balanced, st/age-appropriate rationale, and mutual connection. The cloud lifted. The sibling sun shone bright and warm and we sat down to a delicious dinner together and no further incidents that night.
Later, after putting the kids to bed, I sat at the dining room table where I often work on the lap-top in sight of the Feeleez poster — and I just marveled. “What a stellar tool!” I said to myself, trying to figure out how/why we ever don’t use it in those kinds of situations, and rededicating myself to doing so more. Sometimes, even a really great tool, gets left in the shed too often or for too long! And sometimes, the only best choice is to pick up that faithful old tool, dust it off, and get back into the habit of using it.
So, the general message, I guess, is keep an eye out for the stellar tools in your shed. You may simply need to get them back out and get using them — instead of looking for new ones all over again. And the other part is, if you happen to need a new tool, one that helps create an environment of empathy, and/or one that will help with negotiations of all kinds between kids, and parents, and the two together — then check out the Feeleez poster. You’ll be amazed.