“I need a tissue for my feelings.” These are the words my almost two and half year-old daughter sniffed as she struggled to stop crying one night. Hubs and I can’t remember what the cause of her tears was, probably because our hearts were so busy melting our brains were focused on keeping us together enough to grant her simple request. My heart broke for my daughter, not only because of the words she used, but because of the weight of her acknowledgement that she has feelings and knows she must manage them. Somehow the depth of that statement coming from her little voice was more than I could handle.
When I think about the days I am so frustrated I may pop and the days I am so terribly sad it hurts my insides, I wonder how we learn to navigate these intense feelings and what to do with them. We all learn tips and tricks like take a deep breath and count to five, but honestly can you remember when or how you were taught to recognize that you were happy or sad or angry? I know I learned, I just can’t put my finger on how. I reach back and remember moments that stand out as marked with extreme examples of those feelings, but not the first time I new what that feeling felt like or who taught me what to do about it.
We’ve worked with our daughter to help her identify her feelings and I know they do in her daycare as well. I remember reading the Happiest Toddler on the Block and it’s advice on helping toddlers identify their feelings when they’re having them. I remember acknowledging her tantrums by telling her we see that she’s upset and then helping her calm down, but I don’t think I thought of it as a teaching moment, let alone her truly absorbing any lesson in that moment. I was more focused on getting her to calm down, which now thankfully takes only a few moments unless she’s having a super cranky day and someone just told her she can’t watch an episode of Sofia the First. You’ll get a full on soap opera worthy melt down for that offense in this house. She comes back pretty quickly, but oh my goodness can she wail!
I think in those moments, it’s difficult to recognize just how hard it is for her to process what she is feeling and how to react to that feeling. As parents, we’re so busy trying to make the loud sounds and tears stop that we don’t consider the struggle. Miss O will now tell us that she’s done crying, which always catches me off guard. I’m proud of her for being able to essentially tell us that she’s moved on, but I worry that she’s learning that the goal is to stop crying, not work through whatever is making her cry. It’s a hefty lesson for a toddler and I know there’s time to enhance the lesson, but how on earth do I do that? I can’t even fully process the loss of my father and that was almost eight years ago (also a whole different post someday).
I hope that we can help her learn how to make sense of her feelings and know that she is supported in all of them. I hope she learns constructive ways of managing them. I hope I am ready for her first fight with her best friend, her first heartbreak and even her first lost loved-one. I’m not now, that’s for sure. Her laughter is the sweetest sound on earth, but her crying just got a whole lot heavier.