Talking About Feelings

Squam 2005 048

“I sad, miss Mama,” Emilio said to me on a Friday morning, after Adrienne had been away since Tuesday.  I’ve been impressed with Adrienne and Matt’s natural parenting instincts since Emilio was first born, and they’ve enhanced those skills through reading and paying attention to what other parents have to say.  One thing they do is help Emilio recognize his feelings behind difficult behavior, like saying to him, “I know it’s frustrating to you when I say no more videos,” when he fusses as they put away the iPad.

So I felt proud of both Emilio and his parents that Friday morning when he was able to tell me what he was feeling.  Helping a toddler recognize his feelings, and express them, is important regardless of the child’s gender, but it’s particularly encouraging with a boy, given how few cultural messages there are for boys to express feelings.

All of which reminded me of a talk I tried to have about feelings with Sam and two of his friends, more than a decade ago, when they all were about 12.  It was late on a Sunday afternoon in the cottage we were renting for a week on Squam Lake.  All our visitors for the weekend had left and I realized I now had a week ahead with a lot of male energy in a small space — Eric, Sam and his two friends Ben and Mike.  The boys and I were sitting in the living room of the cottage.

“Okay, Guys,” I said.  “Since I’m going to be the only female here all week, let’s practice talking about our feelings.”  The boys looked at me.  “What are you feeling right now?”

After a pause Mike said, “I feel hungry.”

Ben looked puzzled for a moment and then smiled.  “I feel sand between my toes.”

We all had a lot of fun that week.

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About Grace Mattern

Grace Mattern is a poet, writer, mother, grandmother, partner, friend, family member, gardener, triathlete, hiker and for 30 years was the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She resigned her position at the Coalition on June 15, 2011 in order to concentrate on her writing, while continuing to engage in the movement to end violence against women as a consultant and advisor. Her chapbook Fever of Unknown Origin was published in 2001 and her full-length poetry book The Truth About Death was published in 2012.
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2 Responses to Talking About Feelings

  1. jaschmehl says:

    So glad I found your blog – I really enjoy what I’ve read so far…

    One point for discussion though… I wonder about your words: ‘few cultural messages.’ I watch the adults and the media bombarding my six-year-old nephew with requests to show his feelings all the time. And it seems that he is constantly reprimanded for being a boy, for wanting to ‘rough and tumble’ with his friends. It makes me sad, that the boyish freedom my brothers had as little kids will soon be a thing of the past. What do you think?

    • Grace Mattern says:

      I’m glad you found my blog too, because now I’ve found yours. I do think there are more cultural messages these days that allow boys to express emotions, but not enough messages to boys or girls to just be themselves. While the gender boxes have gotten more fluid, I think they’re still there. Rough and tumble or sweet and tender should be available to all children regardless of gender.

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