By Terry J. Basile, Marriage and Family Therapist
Do you remember when you were a child being asked the question, “What’s your favorite color?” Some of you may have had the same answer for years, others would pick something different each time. We felt that choosing that color said something important about us. It may have even expressed how we were feeling that day. Early on, we show a tendency to choose a certain favorite color for our clothes and toys. A feeling of comfort or discomfort is often attached to those color choices. It was from that framework that I created the book, Let’s Color Your Feelings!
I have spent many years counseling teens and their families. Often a source of problems between a parent and teen was a long standing silence about the child’s real feelings. Then, with the challenges of adolescence, the teen would act up or become depressed. The parents would be surprised, as they felt that they had a good relationship with their child. Somehow the foundation for intimate communication had been lost. This pattern, I believe, begins in childhood. My hope was that with this book I could assist parents with some tools for establishing feelings expression early on.
Let’s take a look at the reality of daily family life. Often to get to work and school in the morning, children are rushed with parents frantic to keep the family on schedule. Evenings are often spent going through the litany of activities of dinner, bath, homework and preparation for the next day. Sometimes we remember to ask about our child’s day at school, but we may not make the effort to really engage them. And believe me they know that if they express a problem, the household could become even more chaotic. It takes time for children to really share their feelings because they do not often possess a ‘feelings’ vocabulary. Instead, they act out to get our attention or withdraw to keep safe. Neither of these options is something a parent wants to promote. It is a pattern that will become more troublesome as the child matures.
As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children that what they feel is important to us. We need to make the time to teach them a ‘feelings vocabulary’ and make that communication a part of our daily conversation. In my book, Let’s Color Your Feelings!, I use color and images to start the dialogue between parent and child. I chose the emotions of happy, angry, sad, scared and quiet for children 4-8. For example, in the book there are “Red Dragon Angry Days when I feel like being loud when I shouldn’t.” Then there are examples of how to positively express the anger like, “I need lots of room to run and play on a Red Dragon day.” I was told by one parent that after reading the book that her child, upon waking, actually spoke of feeling like the Red Angry dragon. This created a shorthand to express and address his feelings before the day began. How nice it was to avoid a tantrum in the car or at school.
So let’s talk about how you can develop some ‘feelings’ conversations in your family:
Take time at the end of the day to identify what feelings you saw in your child that day and record them for a week.
Pick the top five most common feelings.
Talk with your child about each feeling and identify together a color for that feeling. Write it down.
Teach through example. Use a color in your conversation with your child. For example, “I am having a blue happy day because we are going out for pizza.”
Show your child how some feelings are held in our body. Anger is often held in our tightened muscles. Ask where they feel it. Talk about ways to release it.
Once a feeling is identified, always create alternative behaviors to express it. For example, sadness can become less painful by holding a special stuffed animal or asking for a hug.
Include other caretakers, like babysitters or grandparents, in using your color code.
Be clear that there are no good or bad feelings. They are all okay, but what we do with them needs to be respectful of ourselves and others.
I would suggest that you include ‘feelings’ as part of your child’s education. It is important in establishing a trusting relationship with them and giving them a healthy foundation to face the challenges ahead. Teach them that life is a rainbow of feelings and that they are the pot of gold at its end.
Let’s Color Your Feelings! is available at Amazon .com and Lyons Books