We're working on her owning her feelings, and finding appropriate ways to express them. This begins with recognizing and naming her feelings, since so often she is upset and doesn't really know why.
The unintended result of this latest effort? We now have a running commentary of her day's emotions.
"I feel PAIN. And a little MAD at you, and I just want to GRRRRRR" she says, gritting her teeth when I brush her hair every morning. And then "I'm MUCH happier now" as soon as the brush is set back down.
"I DON'T LIKE THAT. I'm starting to feel VERY MAD and like I WANT TO HIT YOU because you aren't listening to me," she tells her sister who, in the time honored tradition of younger siblings everywhere, has discovered juuuust how to push her sister's many buttons.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me about this recent State of the Emotion, is how unsettling it is for me to hear her declare her emotional state. Now, I didn't grow up in an emotionally repressed household; if anything, I tend to be a little TOO loose and comfortable with displays of emotion. I think my discomfort stems from being an adult long enough to be shocked when someone comes right out and says bluntly how they're feeling and why.
Adults don't do this. At least, the ones I know.
Often I find myself cringing and wondering Should I tell her to keep that feeling to herself? At some point, I know we will need to tell her to do just that, to help smooth her school social life, if nothing else. Her friends and teachers are not going to be interested in knowing the constant fluctuations in her mood throughout the day.
Put on a smile! Turn that frown upside down!
Now I'm convinced it's a good thing; the feelings would be there no matter what and even if she was capable of keeping them in (hahaHAHAHA!) I think it's safe to say that's a pretty destructive habit. At least this way, there are fewer unexplained volcanic eruptions. Since she's able to keep it together at school most of the time, for now, we experiment with this at home.
And for ourselves.
You see, we quickly discovered we would need to model this behavior for her, in real situations. We wanted her to know that we all struggle with difficult emotions and how to deal with them.
So when I burnt my toast and my fingers the other day, I started to feel my own - very real - frustration and, realizing that Z was drawing at the table steps away, swallowed my preferred muttered expletives and loudly said "I can't believe the toast got burned! And my fingers hurt! I'm feeling so mad right now, I want to lash out. But I'm going to walk away and think about something else for a minute to calm down."
This feels about as silly as it sounds, to give detailed external words to my internal feelings, in real time.
But it's getting more natural as the weeks go by. Of course I clean up the language I use, and sometimes I'll over embellish when I'm really not having THAT hard a time controlling my anger just to show her how it's done. But more often than not, when I'm really, actually struggling with frustration around my girls, I will now stop and try to put clear external words to my anger.
It is surprisingly difficult, this Use Your Words business. It strengthens my empathy for my girls - especially Z - for I ask it of them all the time.
Luckily, Z has started labeling my emotions for me. "Mommy? Are you feeling angry? Do you want to own it and take a few deep breaths?" Z said sweetly from the back seat of the car last week after a driver flipped me off for no apparent reason.
I didn't at first, so caught up in the peak of annoyance was I.
And then I made myself let go and I said I was and I did.
I'm still caught by surprise how much of parenting is learning lessons right alongside my children. I had this idea that I would be - or should be - sending wisdom down from on high to my grub-like children below.
Instead, here I am, no pedestal to be seen, standing right beside them, hoping to keep one step ahead.
Or at least to stay by their side.