When we first started our Dynamo Girl classes, we implemented the use of feeling charts inspired by our professional training with Girls Leadership. We knew that there was no better way for us to support the social-emotional wellness of the girls in our classes than by getting them to practice identifying their feelings, expanding their emotional vocabularies and supporting them to express the “hard” feelings that they’re often asked by our society to repress. Now, at the start of each Dynamo Girl semester, we pull out the feeling charts from day one, talk about what they are for and utilize them on a regular basis, especially when there are complicated feelings around winning or losing a game, arguments with teammates or feeling excluded from a group. This ability for the girls to actually name what they are feeling takes practice and time, but the rewards are immeasurable — groups of girls who not only can name a wide range of feelings, but can actually confidently articulate how something makes them feel and constructively move on from that place.
For most of us, the last few weeks our lives and our families’ lives have felt uncertain and unpredictable. For me, I have been cognizant of my heightened anxiety and I am regularly talking to loved ones and professionals checking in on my complex emotions — digging to find the feelings buried beneath the burning sensation in my chest. Is it fear, sadness, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment? Likely, it’s a combination of all of them. And, when I actually name those feelings, either out loud or in a written list, it helps to calm my system and ease that scary sensation in my body.
My kids had been rolling with the punches incredibly well over the last week and a half. As we talked about school being out, vacations cancelled, the inability to visit with friends and grandparents, they took the news in stride. “Ok, Mom” or “That’s too bad.” A couple days ago, however, I did start to notice extreme reactions to seemingly small things, like our not having any cereal left even though we had discussed the day before that the cereal aisle was empty at the market. Or, a screaming match about where to stack dirty dishes next to the sink, a seemingly inconsequential issue. I started to think about the displaced feelings from all the upheaval of our lives. Was the freak-out about the missing cereal really about missing cereal? Was the argument over stacking dishes really about where to put the dishes? I realized maybe they weren’t rolling with things as well as I had assumed, they were just finding other places to put their difficult feelings.
So I pulled out the Dynamo Girl Feelings Chart just like I would at a Dynamo Girl class. I had my kids look at it and reminded them they could feel many things at once. After looking at it for a minute, they started to name their feelings “angry, frustrated, hurt, disappointed.” While we weren’t naming the feelings specifically about the Coronavirus, we were putting language to feelings that were bouncing around inside of them, complex and difficult feelings that needed to see the light of day. Below you will find a feelings chart to use in your own homes during this complicated time. Print it, laminate it (if you are able), post it up where everyone can see it or have a few lying around and hang an expo marker nearby to circle and erase emotions as they come and go. Try hard not to name the emotions FOR your kids. Give them the framework using prompts of curiosity(I noticed, I wonder, I saw etc.) to give them the chance to name their own feelings.
Here are some scenarios that provide examples of how to use the feelings chart in your home:
- I noticed you showing a lot of emotion toward Daddy about the cereal, can we use the feelings chart to name some of what was going on for you?
- I saw that you ripped up the painting you made and said it wasn’t any good. Can we look at the feelings chart and think about how you are feeling?
- It must be strange that you haven’t seen grandma in awhile. How does that make you feel? (grab chart)
While some of our kids might very openly be expressing their disappointment about missed playdates, soccer games, hockey finals, and dance recitals. Try to using the feelings chart to help your kids explicitly name what else they are feeling besides disappointment (or relief.) Sometimes, in naming the feelings, the power they have over your child (and your household) might dissipate. I know naming my own feelings in front of my kids models for them that it’s ok to feel more than happy, angry or sad. Hopefully the feelings chart will help lead the way through through expanding our families’ emotional vocabularies and putting language to feelings during this complex and fraught time. It’s also important to recognize that some days our Coronavirus quarantine can make us mad, scared and uncomfortable and later in that same day, make us feel content, calm and grateful. All of that is ok!