The nature of emotions

Can kids learn about the nature of emotions?

Posted Jul 05, 2009

Delving into the emotional world of a child is akin to riding a roller coaster. One moment you are feeling the exhilaration of being at the top of the ride only to plunge to the depths of your fear in another second. Feelings change fast. And kids feel so incredibly intensely since nearly, every experience is occurring for the very first time. Like the moment you meet your first best friend forever, break a bone, encounter a bully or behold the sight of a rainbow. It is this intensity that marks the emotional life of most children.

The nature of emotions

Children, like adults, want to be happy and avoid pain. It is the human condition. It is what links each of us together. And for this reason it is essential emotional education to teach children about the nature of emotions. Not to gloss over them. Not to dumb them down. But to provide them with a basic basis of understanding as to the nature of emotions so they can appropriately (per age, intelligence, aptitude) navigate their intense and ever-changing emotional landscape.

Last week, I was working with Jesse, a 12 year-old girl, who tried to commit suicide a few weeks ago. We were walking and talking in a beautiful neighborhood (completely different than the projects she lives in). Jesse explained that she had felt horrible, and had no hope. It clicked for me then and there. She had no education in the world of emotional health so I begin there, and explained:

  • Emotions Change - A key concept for children of all ages is that emotions change. Most kids don't realize that emotions are like passing clouds that come, and go. They are not going to stay. Like clouds they will pass by. It is a key teaching to begin to learn and trust that emotions (i.e. positive or negative) will pass. Jesse said it never occurred to her that her feeling horrible would ever go away. Her emotion was so intense that she believed it was solid, and unchanging.
  • Natural State - So using the same analogy I continued to explain that our natural emotional state is like the clear blue sky. It is a "natural happy" state of peace, contentment and calm. We both looked up. Then, I pointed to the clouds and explained they are the negative emotions like sadness, fear and loneliness - they are designed to float by. She got it. Jesse began to have hope that deep within her is a place like the blue sky.

So we continued our walk and talk. Our conversation naturally built one concept upon the other. Jesse was intensely interested in creating a blue sky within and learning tools to move the clouds away. It is this active wish that can now be utilized to calm her mind and grow her understanding.

Actively Calm

So developing such an intention to feel better along with the right information (like above) has the potential to strengthen positive emotions and weaken negative ones (i.e. anger, sadness, jealousy). Like His Holiness the Dalai Lama stated "most distracting emotions are connected to being uninformed or misinformed" and that is where teaching kids about the nature of emotions is essential. It begins to unlock the door to their limitless potential.

By Maureen Healy, Follow me on twitter (mdhealy)

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