A question to get my girls talking about their emotions
Guarding against emotional stoicism
My two girls are worlds apart when it comes to expressing their emotions. My youngest lives completely in the moment, sharing every detail of the exact emotion she’s feeling at every precise moment. It tends to be extremes though. It’s either the best thing in the world ever. Or it’s the end of the world completely.
For my eldest, very little is shared at all. Her health challenges have, I’m sure, played a part in her learning to be very stoical about life and her emotions. There are some positives towards that, but from a mental health point of you, holding back or hiding emotions is not going to be helpful.
So, I’m always on the lookout to find out ways to coax more engagement with her emotions — to both identify them and process them.
That led me to ask a new question on the walk back from school yesterday. I’ve often found that the way a question is phrased can make a big difference as to whether or not it triggers a meaningful response. (My article ‘I’ve been asking my daughter the wrong questions’ is one of the most popular pieces I’ve ever written.)
The question I asked this time was:
“Can you tell me about three different emotions you felt at some point today?”
My youngest went first and it probably isn’t that surprising for those of you who know Imogen that her response was, ‘Happy, happy, and happy’!
I tried to probe a little deeper and see if there was anything at all that made her sad, or angry, or frustrated at any point. But no. ‘Nothing today, daddy. Everything was happy today.’
I moved on to Eloise. And as you’ll have gathered, this question was somewhat more for her than Imogen anyway.
I suspected she might just say ‘happy’ too. Partly to copy Imogen, partly because that’s easy and saves her having to express herself.
And she did talk about the moment in her day that made her happiest first. But she didn’t stop there. She then opened up about something that had annoyed her at school. It doesn’t sound like much, but that was a real breakthrough with Eloise. Getting that kind of information from her about her day at school just doesn’t happen.
It’s only one day. Maybe this question won’t work next time. But it was a good reminder for me to keep asking better questions if I want meaningful responses from my kids.