Monday, August 17, 2009

Expressing Anger - When You're 6!

I believe that all emotions have a purpose, and that validating every emotion (i.e. acknowledging that it is there) is paramount to knowing the purpose of that emotion (i.e. what is it telling me?) and being able to manage it, if necessary.

There are many ways to facilitate this acknowledgement of emotions with people, and with children I prefer to make it fun, if possible! One day, I was doing an exercise with a group of girls aged 6 to 9, focusing on accepting emotions of anger (in themselves): the exercise was to express feelings of anger – or other similar feelings that they would like to express – by writing them down. They were promised that no-one would look at their pieces of paper, (which were ultimately to be destroyed).

As all the girls were busy – heads down – writing to their hearts content, the youngest, and only 6-year old, approached me. Quietly she whispered “How do you spell the F word?”
I was a little taken aback, but collected myself quickly and responded in a whisper, “It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to spell it right.”
“But I want to!” she whispered, clearly irritated.
I smiled, hoping she would go back to her writing. Alas, she was adamant.
“How do you spell the F word?” she repeated, whispering a little louder this time.
“I’m afraid I am not allowed to tell you that.” I ventured a little sheepishly, stumped as to what to tell her that she would accept. “and anyway, as I said, it doesn’t matter.””I want to know!” she vehemently whispered loudly. “How do you spell the F word?!”
“Maybe you can use another word?” I ventured hopefully
“NO!” she whispered loudly now, causing one of the other girls to look up briefly.
“I want to know how to spell it!” she whispered again, her voice rasping.
I shrugged. “I’m sorry sweetie, I can’t tell you.” I laid a sympathetic hand on hers, which she shook off impatiently, turning on her heels and with an emphatic exclamation of “Right!” she stomped back to her paper and pencil.
Astonished I watched as she deliberately lifted up her tiny freckled fist with her middle finger pointing straight up in the air. Holding her hand firmly in this position, she turned it around and placed it decidedly down on the paper. With her pencil in the other hand, she proceeded to trace around the fist with the extended middle finger. When she had finished she looked up at me with a satisfied nod.
Then, blow me down, she did it again! And again, and again, and again! Until her entire page was filled with this image.
Suffice it to say, the exercise worked beautifully for her. She completed our session with a huge satisfied grin, announcing to her mother that she had left her ‘angeriness behind’. And indeed her mother reported more than a year later that her daughter no longer threw the huge anger tantrums she used to before, and had taken to writing, not only when she was upset (which was great news) but otherwise too, composing stories that eventually would win her awards at school.

I have simplified this story somewhat, but the essence of it is illustrative; when we are able to acknowledge our emotions no matter how bad they may seem, and express them appropriately, we can move on to the issue of releasing and /or transforming them so they better serve us!

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