Feel What? Raising Emotionally Literate Children

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I feel my face get hot and my stomach tighten. It happens in a flash. I’ve asked her to pick up. I’ve asked her to get dressed. I’ve asked her to get her coat on. I’ve been ‘kind’ and ‘patient’. Why isn’t she listening?! Suddenly, I snap inside. All feigned patience is gone. My tone gets short and my stare hard. ‘Caroline, I’ve asked you multiple times to get ready to leave. I’m done. Make it happen. Now’. And I say it in that tone.

She sees and hears me and complies, but I see the flicker. I see her draw in and her shoulders fall. She’s doing what I say because I’m her mother and I have power, but it’s not real cooperation. It’s coercion. 

I have been studying emotional intelligence and responsibility for nearly 20 years. ‘You know better’, I think to myself. I see her frightened eyes. I see her shutting herself up because Mommy is getting frustrated and angry.  

On the surface it looks like she’s just learning to listen-to respect boundaries. Yes. In some respect this is true. And it is my job to teach her those skills. But, it’s still a moment of awakening for me-because of my intention. In that moment, I am not teaching her. I am blaming her for my anger.

I take a breath. 

‘I’m sorry, Caroline. I have been working really hard and I am distracted thinking about my classes. I’m tired and I’m focused on getting out the door. I notice I’m feeling afraid thinking that I’m going to be late and not be able to do everything and have dinner all together for you and your sister. None of that is your fault. I’m taking a breath and slowing down. Would you tell me what you are working on and how can I help so we can all leave together’?

Yes. I really speak that way to my 5 year old. I also speak like that to my husband and 6 month old.  

No. I didn’t always do this. I had to learn it and I keep learning. I do it because for all of the success that I am achieving (and hope to achieve) as an entrepreneur, wife, mother and feminist of the world, what I want most is for my daughters to have the skills to navigate their lives and make authentic choices, build authentic relationships and to be happy.  

I want that for myself as well. I want to really experience love and happiness. Two emotions that bulleted me open when I became a mother. But they came with company-a lot of fear, worry, reactivity and a barrage of unconscious beliefs about what it means to be a ‘good’ mother and woman in society. 

I know that my family looks good on paper and social media. Two loving parents and two charismatic, wonderful daughters….the ‘pretty’ family. 

But in this day of speed, virtual living and Twitter based communication, I care less about image (it’s great to look good, don’t get me wrong) but what I want first is to be happy in my heart. I want to feel peace when I’m alone and in our daily familial interactions. I want each member of my family to thrive and bring their unique gifts and skills to life.  

So, I started reading and looking around for help. And what I found changed the way I parent and the way I treat myself, my husband, my business and my clients forever. 

Dr. Laura Markham, one of the foremost authorities on happiness in children and families, describes raising emotionally literate children by helping kids ‘unpack their emotional backpack’.  

She notes two key steps to keeping emotions flowing rather than stock piling. Movement and listening. Tickle fests! Dancing. Playful rough housing that shakes up the mood and then compassionate inquiry and listening. 

I am a yoga teacher and know first hand that movement is medicine. I also spend time alone with my body and mind, listening-every day. It’s how I unpack my own emotional back pack of stress, fear, critical self-talk, anger, creative energy, passion and joy! It’s how I know myself daily. It’s how I can be tuned in to the physical experience of locking down and ‘snapping’ and it’s how I have practiced-yes, it’s practice-re-winding, and taking responsibility for myself. 

Children replicate the world around them. Young children are being imprinted with how to love, what is safe and how to get their needs met by their caregivers. Emotional literacy is taught by example. I can’t be disconnected from myself and expect my daughters to know how to manage their raging emotions and changing hormones. I have to get in there and get messy with them. If I’m going to re-write my story of motherhood, it must begin with a loving, feeling relationship with myself and allowing my humanity and imperfection to be seen, felt and shared in my most intimate relationships. I let my girls see that I don’t actually have it all figured out and that I too am learning.  

For all of the academic enrichment, music classes, sports, arts and cultural plurality that my husband and I are surrounding our daughters lives with, the greatest teaching that I can bestow on them is how to really enjoy this life.  

Because, the truth is, sometimes people snap. You don’t always get what you want. The sky truly is the limit, but it takes persistent and consistent work to reach it. And if you’re not enjoying the journey-laughing, loving, crying, FEELING-no amount of external comforts, perfect selfies, Harvard diplomas or Facebook likes will fill the void. 

So, dearest Mother, I invite you to take a step back and notice. Notice your emotional state. Are you happy? Are your children? Do they actually want everything that you’re giving them or do they want to slow down and feel? Do they need to be heard? Do you

Rachel Welch is the creator of Revolution Motherhood, a fitness community empowering and strengthening mothers from the inside out. Her 6 and 12-week postpartum Foundations classes combine deep core rehabilitation, strength training, yoga, pilates and barre all in a private, group community of motivated, nurturing, fun, inspiring mothers. Her next program begins April 9th. www.rachelannewelch.com