By Tara Jordan of Book Birdie
It’s dusk. Chilly. I’m holding my five-year-old son’s hand as we walk the streets of Boston. He’s wearing cleats, shin guards, and a neon yellow uniform. He’s number nine and proud of it.
He’s also wailing. And has been since we started the mile-long walk home from soccer practice seven minutes ago. He’s snotty and blotchy. He ain’t pretty.
People are staring. One cheery man walking by us says, “Hey, don’t cry, little guy.” I want to take his hipster beanie and shove it in his mouth.
I don’t. I’m not crazy. I’m just acknowledging an in-the-moment feeling. I believe there’s value in doing so. Admitting to myself that a red flash of aggression passed from my stomach out through my ears when the well-meaning man gave his well-meaning directive is precisely what allows me to see that he is well-meaning. The acknowledgment also allows me to keep my hands to myself.
As Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, has said, “All feelings are okay to have; however, only some reactions are okay.”
The steps are simple: 1. Acknowledge the difficult feeling. 2. Manage the feeling in an appropriate way.
Sometimes, as in my feeling about the beanie guy, simply engaging in the first step is enough for the feeling to dissipate. Sometimes, like when my children’s whining provokes rage within me, I need to go to step two by locking myself in the bathroom to take some deep breaths. Other times, like in my son’s case on this walk home, one needs a good cry.
My son is hungry and tired. And during the scrimmage part of practice, he tripped three times—a normal consequence of the amoeba-like, let’s-all-go-for-the-ball-at-once soccer played by five-year-olds. He held it together until the end of practice when all his frustration and discomfort came pouring out his eyes.
I’m not telling him to pull it together; though, of course, I wish he would. The crying is loud and annoying, and if we were in a restaurant, I would take him outside. But we’re on the sidewalk, and I want him to know that all emotions are welcome. Five p.m. on a Tuesday is as good a time as any to follow through on that desire.
According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, “Emotions drive learning, decision making, creativity, relationships and health.” Simply put, effectively managing emotions allows a person to maintain well-being and live a fulfilling life. Those who are taught to stuff difficult emotions have trouble feeling the positive ones. Also, the not-so-pretty emotions spout out sideways in the form of being overly obsessive, defiant, aggressive, anxious, judgmental, apathetic, or just plain mean. Ask a child to stuff difficult, inconvenient emotions and run the risk of raising a miserable adult, one who might shove a beanie into the mouth of a stranger, one who more emotionally balanced people don’t want to be around.
“I know you’re feeling tired and frustrated right now,” I tell him as he continues to wail, an attempt to help him name and acknowledge his feelings. I rub my thumb along the side of his hand as we walk.
“Why did I have to trip so much? My heel hurts, my knee hurts, my whole leg hurts,” he yells out between sobs. It’s worth noting that he is walking perfectly well. “Everything hurts!” He is Alexander of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on steroids. A woman walks by and gives us an empathetic smile. I love her.
We are outside the entrance to our apartment building. I tell my son we’ll stay there until he’s done crying; we need to be mindful of our neighbors who don’t want their evening disturbed. I hug him.
After a minute, his crying stops. We head up to our apartment where my husband and daughter are just sitting down at the dinner table.
“How was practice?” my husband asks our son.
“Great. We had a scrimmage at the end.”
About Tara Jordan
Tara is the mom of two city kids. A former English teacher, she writes about children’s picture books and other tidbits that keep children and mamas connected and thriving. See her stuff at Book Birdie.