I’ve heard it said on more than one occasion –
“Talking to kids about their feelings is just the latest hocus pocus, mushy, hippie fad!”
“Why would you want to bother talking about feelings? Ffft!”
“Nobody talked to me about my feelings when I was a kid and I turned out okay”.
Yes, to some extent feelings are pretty straightforward. When it boils down to it, most of us will do more of the things that make us feel good, (or less bad), and less of the things that make us feel bad, (or less good). Simple, right?! However, like most things to do with our clever human bodies, feelings are much more complex than they seem.
People can get into all sorts of messes with their feelings.
Some people try to completely tune out and avoid feeling. Think about people you know who might use alcohol, substances or even work to avoid fixing certain problems in their lives. Some people get completely bowled over by their feelings becoming almost paralysed or bogged down in their moods. Many people mess with their feelings or have trouble understanding, regulating and using the feedback from feelings.
So, what exactly is a feeling?
Basically, a feeling is our body’s way of telling us what is going on. Our feelings are our body’s way of providing feedback. If we don’t tune in and understand feelings, then it’s like going about our business without getting told what is working and what is not working. Without feelings, we would be aimless and, more worryingly, perhaps we would keep doing hurtful or harmful things without knowledge. That’s just not very helpful for human kind at all.
Our clever bodies come with an inbuilt “standard feelings fit-out” to help us with feedback about the world – the world of our body, the world of our interactions with things and people, and the world inside our own minds.
Some of our feelings are generated by our own bodies – like when we are coming down with a cold….we feel lousy. The chemicals inside our body generate a feeling in our body and we respond by maybe lying down, having a day at home or going to the doctor.
Some of our feelings are generated by our reactions to things that happen in our world – we hear a sudden loud noise and get a fright or we see someone else get hurt. Our brains take in information, send messages to our body to react and our body sends feelings back to our brain to let us know what is going on and to keep us safe.
Some of our feelings are generated by our thoughts. We can create our own world of feelings without even leaving our bed in the morning. Our body responds to what our mind is thinking. Thoughts can generate feelings. We can have feelings by generating worries that negatively anticipate what might happen to us in the future (like the idea that we won’t have any friends to play with at our new school) or we can positively anticipate (like the idea that you might get a great present for your birthday tomorrow).
Psychologists use a variety of interventions to treat humans (both the adult and the child varieties) who have mental health concerns or to rehabilitate people with behaviours that have led them to dire consequences. Many interventions are based on the idea that by tuning into their feelings and taking some control and ownership of them, people can gain more control over their outlook, their behaviours and therefore, their quality of life.
It is the job of caring adults to help children learn about their feelings in a way that will ultimately help them to use their feelings in ways that benefit them and others. Like the many other amazing things a child learns to do as they grow into adulthood, children need a bit of support in the early years to get into good habits with their feelings.
Helping people tune into feelings and learn how to regulate or adjust the volume of their feelings helps them to better understand and use their feelings to guide thier choices and their behaviour. We need to help guide children to get the most out of their “standard feelings fit-out” without overcomplicating it.