I have a quiet kid. That’s not to say he isn’t loud, but he keeps his emotions close to the chest, which can be super frustrating to a mom who cries at every other commercial/song/movie.
Spoiler alert, this technique doesn’t work: “What’s the matter? Did something happen at school today? Does your stomach hurt? Are you hungry? Did you have a test? Do you have to poop? Was someone mean? Was someone nice? Why aren’t you answering me?”
I would chalk his emotional muteness up to being an 11-year-old boy, except I have proof otherwise from his more babbly peers. Rewinding over past relationships with adult males, I suppose the endless faucet of “what-is-wrong?” didn’t earn me any more information then either, except, “I’m going to sleep on the couch if you don’t stop it.”
LET ME LOVE YOU!!
That is where that is coming from. At 43, I finally realize not everyone needs to talk through all the feels in order to feel cared for. That said, it is our parental obligation to teach kids how to recognize emotions and know how to talk through them, should they wish, or process them in a way that fits their personality.
I know. Nothing feels quite as daunting to a parent who, on top of keeping the kids alive, now has to teach the nuance of imaginary things that we probably have yet to master ourselves. I mean, isn’t that why we have wine?
Fear not, momma birds. I have worms of knowledge from people who DO know how to navigate the maze of emotional health and wellness.
“Instead of peppering them with questions, share a story or challenge from your own life from when you were about their age,” says Sarah MacLaughlin, LSW, Maine parent and author of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children.
“Watch a show or movie about the age and developmental phase your child is in and use that as a jumping off place for discussion,” MacLaughlin told me. “Wonder can be used to talk about friendship and inclusion. Sisters relates to sibling challenges. With my tween, we watch old Friends episodes to talk about more mature topics like sexism, relationships and pornography.”
Your kids will be so thrilled that they get permission to watch more TV they may not realize your ulterior motive until it is too late. It is bittersweet, this age of media, but luckily, there seems to be a Netflix show that matches pretty much any stage of emotional development. I love going old school with Goonies and Stand by Me to talk about the pressure to fit in versus the magic of being unique. I am counting the days until Breakfast Club is appropriate!
“There are so many picture books that lend themselves to this; the book is the bridge,” says Matt Halpern, a kindergarten teacher in Freeport. “We read and talk about what the character is going through and feeling. In that process, we talk about our own feelings. We do this almost daily. The key is finding books with rich characters. I am a firm believer in not shying away from difficult topics. Kids yearn to hear and discuss these books.”
This year, Halpern especially likes using Caldecott Honoree, The Rough Patch by Brian Lies. “We use this to talk about ‘shades of feeling sad.’ We talk through sad, upset, devastated and what those look and feel like,” he says.
If your kiddo isn’t able to talk through what they are feeling, when in doubt, there’s not much a good hug or snuggle can’t heal.
Case in point, I was reading through a paper my son wrote about our dog.
“One reason I love you is because you calm me down. One time I was mad and you sat next to me and cuddled with me. It made me feel all better.”
Know that not everyone needs to talk to feel heard. Never ever shame your kids (especially boys) for crying or being emotional—bottled up sadness turns into anger. They need to know exhibiting snot and shaky breath is all part of being a glorious human. Let your babies know you are there for them through smiles and ugly cries and everything in between. Let them see you snort laugh or bawl at whatever ridiculous meme or movie moves you.
And, if you can, run out and adopt a pet or spend time around animals, because that kind of love listens to even the quietest of souls.
Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her family live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.