Friday, March 7, 2014

Raising our Daughters, Raising Ourselves: Emotional Awareness I've Learned from My Daughter

"We tell our girls that their feelings are like horses-- beautiful, spirited horses. But
they are the riders. We tell them that God gave them this horse when they were born, and they will ride it their whole life."

from "Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches"
by Rachel Jankovic

The mom's group I am a part of recently started reading  and discussing this short, but profound book, Loving the Little Years. The fifth chapter is entitled Spirited Horses. It's a sweet and simple suggestion of teaching little girls about their emotions by comparing them to a "spirited horse." Beautiful, powerful... but in need of some training and control. Early one morning last week, after some silly sibling squabble over something, my five year old daughter proceeded to slap her brother and then turned to me, with anger and frustration in her beautiful hazel eyes... and said "And you, you shut up!" Sure I was taken aback for a second, because this was the first time she has said this to me, her own mother! In fact, I don't think she's said it to anyone. Thank G-d that my husband had gotten up before me that day, and I had been greeted with hot coffee and fresh pancakes! Another morning, under different circumstances, and perhaps I would have taken this affront personally or gotten angry (which happens frequently), and my response could have been very different. On this morning, however, I calmly told her to go calm down in her room, and that I would be in soon to talk to her. With this little book in hand, I went into my daughter's room, because I knew it was time. Fighting back tears (because we mothers are still riding this horse too!), I read her the story about the spirited horses, and why she had to learn to control her emotions. So...yeah, I could not have discovered this book at a better time than the present

I've been a mother for five (loooong) years, and I've found that parenting is "a lot of on-the-job failure and correction. Repenting and forgiving. Laughing. Lots and lots of laughing"...(at yourself, that is) as Jankovic says it is. I had taught my daughter about emotions in Pre-K, and we made some cute "emotional eggs" and everything, but now I am witnessing such complex emotions in her little self, and she (and sometimes I) have no idea what to do with them. It can be scary. That's why I'm so grateful for this mom, (mother of four daughters) and how she can help me (mother of one daughter.) Without the emotional outbursts my daughter has been experiencing lately, I wouldn't have been driven to research for this post.

I see her frustration. I hear her whining. I have experienced her moodiness. I've been angry with her for her behavior.
But now, perhaps for the first time, I feel her pain and want to help her. 

I think sometimes we, as mothers, are expected to know how to deal with little girls and all their "issues," because we were once little girls ourselves. I have found that raising a daughter actually shows me everything I don't know about little girls (or myself), and has motivated me to get to know myself better, so I can help her know who she is. I don't even remember what I was like at age 5, besides really quiet and shy. I was a tomboy, the only girl in the family, had two (much) older brothers, my father was a former drill instructor in the Marines, and my mother was pretty quiet, too. Sounds like the ideal family to raise an expert in expressing emotions, doesn't it?

Yeah, not even close.

I'm still quiet, and an introvert through and through, but I'm pretty confident that I know who I am. But I'm thirty-two. She's five. One thing I think that everyone recalls from their childhood and adolescence is that it took years and years to discover who you really are. We all go through those awkward stages to find ourselves. Now, after all that, we must help our children through them. At times, it feels like the blind are leading the blind. The good thing about mothers, however, is their willingness, even eagerness, to learn from other mothers. We yearn to experience motherhood, we learn from the good and the bad, we try suggestions as easily as we give them out, and we share stories with other mothers... every.chance.we.get. It never gets old, and there are always new things to share.

That's why there are "mom's groups" in the first place!
That is why I blog. 
To share, to encourage, to connect...

Girls of all ages long to connect with other girls. It's how we were made. We're relational. Sometimes moms and daughters have times of disconnection, and it's almost always because of emotions (on both sides.) When best friends stop talking to each other, when wives give their husbands the silent treatment, when little girls tell their mothers to shut up... it's always emotions. Your sweet little princess is growing up, and on her way to becoming a passionate young woman! Exciting and terrifying at the same time, isn't it?! Especially when you get those little glimpses of her acting (and reacting) JUST LIKE YOU! If that doesn't make your day, then I don't know what will! :) I don't know about you, but the last thing I want for my daughter is for her to be just like me! No, I want her to be better... a better mom, a better wife, etc. In reality, she will probably be dealing with this issue with her first daughter (B"H) many years down the road. If I accomplish little else, I definitely hope to teach her (allow her) to better express her emotions. 

It's been an emotional couple weeks here at home. Since she badmouthed me in the kitchen last week, I have had to turn around, (after successfully getting the two kids winter-ready and down the elevator) because she was crying hysterically and (I thought) making up excuses for not wanting to go anywhere... she was too tired... her foot, then her belly was hurting... And I really wanted to get out of the house, (we were heading out to her best friend's house for a playdate, not the dentist or something!) so I was not at all happy with her meltdown. As she was lying in her bed, still crying, I was in the kitchen trying to calm myself while texting my friend to say that we were not coming. And through the crocodile tears and whiny cries of "mommy!," I hear her say "Can you pray for me?" Those five little words immediately softened my heart, and told me that she really needs my help with this. Once again, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, I go into her room to sit with her and talk about those spirited horses. As my tears flow, I have to assure her that she is not making me cry. I tell her that mommies have emotions, too. She looks over at her two-year old brother, who is staring at both of us with wide-eyed wonder, still in his coat and boots wondering why we're not going "bye-bye" and she asks "Do boys have emotions, too?" I say "Yes, but they don't cry as much as we do." We both smile. I convince him to bring me a tissue, which in his mind is a square and a half of toilet paper, and we dry our eyes.

I love the fact that along with the four girls, Jankovic also has a two-year old son. She calls him "simple-- just right up the middle and easy. He either disobeys, or he doesn't. Sometimes, when he feels really complicated and deep, he fusses." This describes my son pretty well, except that when he feels complicated and deep, he imitates his big sister (which is quite hilarious). I try to put his sock on, and in his best whiny voice, he'll say "owwwww" or if I tell him to do something, he'll let out an exaggerated "noooo!"... but if I just wait, and look into his face, I can read behind his little smirk and it screams "I saw my sister do this, so I thought I would try it!"...and our eyes will meet, and we'll both smile. Then, he is himself again.

"I caught her on the kitchen counter getting into something. Surprise was my first response -- "What are you doing?" Her immediate response was to throw her hands up over her eyes in shame. It was at that moment I realized that she didn't know what was causing it either! She was just as surprised as I was to find herself being so delinquent. It wasn't any kind of deep malice that got her into those cupboards looking for chocolate chips-- it was just a simple lack of control."

from "Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches"
by Rachel Jankovic

Realizing that my daughter's emotions are kind of outta control right now, I started looking for resources to help us both learn how to manage them. Not to ignore them, or condemn them, but to understand and manage them. I found this great post here called "Resources to Teach Kids about Emotions, and How to Handle Them."   It was written by a mother of seven, including several adopted children with emotional/sensory issues, and contains a long list of books and games dealing with emotional awareness. I searched for some of these books at my local library, and found some good ones. I put others on hold, and am waiting for them to come in.

To give you an idea of just how many resources she lists:

And those are just the book! She also has games and cards, etc. So visit her blog and check them out!

I made a new Pinterest board on raising girls, but right now it's all resources for emotional awareness that I want to look into. To see it, click here

Being aware of your child's emotional struggles is the first step to helping them deal with them. It's like a puzzle that is coming together for me. I've known about the jealousy she feels for her little brother sometimes, and the sadness that oftentimes comes over her when her father is traveling and away from home (I'll save that for another post!). But I didn't see and understand how anxious she gets. It is widely known that anxiety and worry are actually bad for your health. Worry can cause bellyaches, especially in small children who don't know how to deal with it. For months now, my daughter has had the tendency to complain that her belly is hurting if we are in the car. Sometimes it comes and goes, and sometimes it gets to the point where she is crying out or ripping her seatbelt off while I am still driving. I was trying to figure out why it was happening, but I thought that she must have some mild form of motion sickness like my mother has. I would try to offer to put peppermint oil on her belly, but she hates the smell of it. I would make sure the seatbelt wasn't too tight, but that wasn't the problem. Now I'm wondering if it has more to do with her having anxiety about being in the car than anything else. Now that I'm intentionally aware of her struggle, I see how worried she can get. I sometimes wrote her off as being dramatic (which she most certainly can be) all the time. I see now that her anxiety has been building up, and I am capable of easing it for her. 

Probably the most helpful of the books I found at the library is What To Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner, MD. It's in a workbook format, having text that I can read to her and then a page for her to draw something to express what she worries about, etc. It was great going through this with her (she keeps requesting that I read it again!) and it has helped to ease her worries, mostly by letting her know she's not the only kid who worries, and by giving me the understanding I needed to not allow her to dwell on her them and make her feel worse. The book mentions the bellyaches and other side effects of worry, a "worry time" for each day, and does a good job of equipping parents and kids with tools to deal with this troublesome tendency. In addition, it has helped my husband and I to be much more mindful of what we say and do around her. It also makes us more aware of our own anxiety, and how and how not to express it in her presence. If you have children who worry, this is a great resource for the entire family.

Another wonderfully helpful idea from my new friend over at is a homemade "anti-anxiety kit" for children. Inspired by her ideas, I put together a "Worry Kit" for my daughter. Hers included some homeopathic stress relief drops, so I tried to offer some essential oils to my princess, but it turns out that every one I have smells "disgusting" to her. Lavender and Vanilla are said to be soothing, so I ordered some vanilla oil for her (she doesn't like lavender), which I plan to add to her little felt elephant pillow she helped me sew in school this week. (Got the idea here.)

Our Worry Kit also includes flour-filled balloons (much easier than filling with playdough) for a relaxing sensory sensation, and a large plastic egg filled with "worry cards" which I typed up and added clip-art to so she can "read" them to herself. They are all ideas that she can implement when she is worried to make the anxiety go away. Some of the ideas are from the website above, and some are from the "Worry Too Much" book. I also printed out a little card with a multitude of emotions (faces) on it for her to look at, and ordered the book "The Way I Feel" by Janan Cain. The cards say things like Pray, Take Deep Breaths, Count to 10, Hum a Song, Talk to Someone, etc. (Email me at why_b_messianic{at} if you would like the Word document to print at home.) So far, she has used the kit a few times, and she loves it (even shows it off to friends!) The best part of it is that we have not had to cancel any more playdates because she was too upset to leave the house! Yay! {By the way, in the process of writing this, we also missed the mom's group meeting that discussed the "Spirited Horses" chapter because of her emotional crisis at home. Disappointing, but at least now I have the knowledge to help her in the future!}

Raising a daughter has proven to be an amazing adventure, spirited horses and all. She has taught me how to laugh, and oftentimes reminds me to cry, too. She has pointed out all my weakness, but she also glorifies my strengths. She is my biggest fan, and my toughest critic... and I'm convinced it will always be that way. She is my constant companion, and sometimes a walking mirror of myself (scary)... Most of all, she is "G-d's Solemn Promise," and has taught me more about myself than anything else....

**As always, comments are appreciated. Moms of little worry warts, feel free to share additional resources and ideas not mentioned here. My research continues, so I will add any really good ones that I find!**

Be blessed!


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