Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Coupled Emotions

When I wrote, Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout: A Kid’s Guide to Feelings, which describes our eight basic emotions, I searched for a way to help kids remember them more easily.   My solution was to group two emotions together based on how they affected our nervous system.

The first group of emotions I put together was Anger and Fear.   I labeled them as emotions that make us TENSE AND TIGHT.   Anger and Fear both pump up our nervous system.   They energize us for fight or flight.    Anger needs this increased arousal for potential protective maneuvers.    Fear needs this as well to keeps us edgy so we notice everything and assess threats to our survival.

The second group of emotions I paired was Shame and Sadness.   I labeled them as emotions that make you SAGGY and SLOW.   These emotions represent a decrease in our arousal level and cause a temporary dip in energy.  We are slowed down and loose enthusiasm for things that once pleased us.    Shame makes us introspective and question ourselves.    Sadness is our reaction to a loss or rejection; we withdraw to reflect and remember.  

The next grouping is Happiness and Love.   I labeled them as emotions that make you LOOSE and LIGHT.   These are emotions that put us in a state of harmony where our body is relaxed and at ease.   Things are working smoothly and we feel open and receptive.   Happiness is a place of pleasure.  It makes us cooperative and easy to be with.   Love allows us to be intimate with others, to share ourselves and be caring and kind.  

The last grouping is Disgust and Surprise.  These are the emotions that make us UNEASE and QUEASY.  Both these emotion cause immediate physical reactions; compelling us to react.   Surprise is like an alarm that demands our attention.  It stops us in our tracks so we can pay attention and assess what’s happening.  Disgust is our automatic reaction to anything that seems noxious.   We withdraw and try to avoid whatever smell, taste or touch might be tainted or unhealthy.

For more information on emotions and how to help children understand and express their emotions, visit my blog.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Increase Your Child’s Self Esteem by Telling Family Stories

I just finished a fascinating article that looked at the impact of tellingfamily stories. It turns out that kids that know a lot about their families do better when they face challenges.  Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivsush asked kids questions like:  Do you know where your parents met? Do you know something really terrible that happened in your family?  Do you know the story of your birth?  They administered their questionnaire, “Do You Know?”, to four dozen families and compared the answers to the psychological tests the kids had taken earlier.  Their conclusion was that the more kids knew about their family’s history the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their family functioned. 

While having a strong family narrative is valuable, it’s the particular type of narrative that best predicts to family cohesion and consequently to children’s resilience.  There are three types of family narratives.   One is an “ascendance narrative,” in which the family does well.   The theme of the story is the rags to riches story.   The second is a “descending narrative,” in which trouble and travail beset the family that never seems to get ahead.   The third narrative is an “oscillating narrative.”  In it the family sometimes suffers setbacks and sometimes achieves triumphs, but, most importantly, the family sticks together through it all.   Dr. Duke speculates that children with this narrative develop what he calls a strong “intergenerational self.”   I think it reflects the comfort we all feel in knowing we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we belong to a family that has traditions and survival skills that help manage life’s struggles.

 My guess is that children who hear “oscillating narratives” also develop a more realistic understanding of life’s ups and down.   Facing setbacks might be easier for them.   Perhaps they are better equipped to see failure as a temporary state that can be overcome.    And so those experiences of setbacks become lessons of courage. I’m reminded of Joseph Campbell’s study of myth and his writing about the journey of the hero. The hero is never consistently successful in his quest.   Often he has serious obstacles to overcome and almost always there are times of self doubt, as well as, the need to seek advice from others.   Perhaps this is the message that comes across in “oscillating narratives.” 

 It’s reassuring to know that stories of difficult times are as important to include in family history as success stories.    Given this new research you might want to think about what family themes you want to emphasize and share with your children.  Elaborate your stories to demonstrate how family members helped one another.  Make it interactive and ask your children what they would have done in a similar situation.   Talk about the fun celebrations as well as sad occasions.    Create a family story album with pictures to accompany the stories. 

For more information on helping your child express their emotions, you can pick up a copy of my new book, Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout: A Kid’s Guide to Feelings, available now!