It’s a reflective question parents, teachers and anyone who has children in their lives will have asked themselves. How do you talk to little people with feelings and emotions that are sometimes bigger than they are?! It’s a question we get asked regularly, particularly by parents with children on the autism spectrum and those with other challenges than can make understanding emotions a real obstacle.
Thanks to author, Sara Stace, we now have a wonderful resource that is helping families and classrooms discuss a huge range of feelings and emotions, and how to interact and work with them. We had a quick chat to get an insight into this wonderful book and how to best help children understand what they’re feeling.
My Feelings Matter has fast become one of our favourite and best selling books, where did the inspiration and idea come from?
It is super exciting for me to hear this! The idea came originally from me wanting to create feelings flash cards, I then decided at the last minute to turn it into a book. I had created my own feeling cards at home for my son who is on the Autism Spectrum and we had them fixed to the fridge. I hand drew the illustrations and they were terrible, but he seemed to understand them. The idea was to see if he could remember to grab one off the fridge when he couldn’t talk to me but could maybe identify with a visual. This way I could know how he was feeling. At the time anything I could have done to avoid meltdowns (which were so very frequent at the time) I would have tried. I decided that this could work for other children especially those with special needs, so I set to work!
Who is the book for?
The book really is for everyone, by that I mean the number of adults I have tell me that they have learnt a new perspective from our book is just amazing. The book is a resource. It’s not a story telling book. It is more of a way that children can identify with the visual illustrations we have put together and then that helps them recognise and name a feeling, emotion or sense. The book of course was written for my son, so any one with children on the Autism Spectrum or Sensory Processing Disorder will really benefit from and love this book.
Illustrations are a big part of any kid’s book, how important are they in yours?
Without our illustrations the book couldn’t exist or be as well received as it has been. I knew in my mind exactly what little people we needed, and it did take quite some time before we reached our little feelings people. I had to test them out to see if my son knew what they might be feeling, and we had to change some. They needed to be simple.
They needed to be on a white background so that children’s eyes were not met with an overwhelming amount of colour and distracting visuals to take away from them focusing on the emotion or sense.
Not every child can recognise facial cues as easily as others, and some may not be able to identify with ours either. They may need real photos of people they know to learn from. Every child is different. A HUGE thank you goes to my friend Tamara Hackett from Sweet Clover Studios for somehow understanding my requests and bringing them to life. I love them so much and think she has done a wonderful job.
From your experience what are the essential steps to helping children understand their feelings and emotions?
This is just my experience of course, as a mum with two boys, who are each VERY different. I would say it’s crucial to communicate, talk and ask questions. We are human beings. We are not robots. Children are not born knowing about emotions, they are taught, and rarely are we taught in a healthy way. Sometimes how we are taught comes with a whole lot of baggage from our parents. (Not always intentional, just unaware).
Children need to see our expressions so look at them when you talk to them. Go down to their level if what you are saying is important. Don’t just shout from the other room or expect that a two year old or six year old knows how you’re feeling. Also, don’t expect them just to be able to tell you how they are feeling. It takes time and effort.
Talk about feelings regularly. Ask them how something made them feel and just listen to their answer. You will without a doubt in turn raise emotionally intelligent children. Children that may not have to heal from all the suppressing of emotions that we may have had to do as children. That will in turn hopefully produce healthy adults. Adults that can talk to their bosses, their partners, their children and work through feelings without numbing them out with unhealthy habits. Or on the other hand, lashing out, being angry and violent all because they can’t express how they feel and sit with those feelings until they pass.
The most important thing even though my book is all about feelings is to teach children that just because they are feeling something doesn’t mean they have to BE that feeling.
You can feel angry or sad without being angry forever or sad for days. Feel it, sit with it, what is it telling you? How can we work through that, and now let go of that feeling? We can’t be happy all the time, but we can feel it regularly, enjoy it, then let it pass until next time.
Can you imagine that world like this? I can.