There is power in speaking directly. Learning how to utilize a declarative tone of voice has helped me navigate tricky situations throughout my life. I am grateful that I have the ability to say exactly what is on my mind and convey my thoughts clearly. I feel like teaching our children to communicate clearly and effectively is super important. For my sons, I worked really hard to teach them emotional literacy. “Tell me how you are feeling” I repeated over and over and over. I asked them this question without an expectation that them telling me how they were feeling should make them stop feeling. I just wanted them to be able to name the feeling they were having while they were experiencing it. Often they were feeling more than one thing at a time and I would help them list those feelings out.
“I’m feeling angry!”
“I’m feeling sad!”
“I’m feeling tired”
“I’m feeling stompy!” (Stompy was a feeling I named when the boys were little, sometimes we just needed to stomp it out, you know? And in my house, stompy and hungry were often paired together.)
It’s hard to teach kids things we ourselves were not taught, but it’s worth the struggle. Sometimes it’s the shape of the void that is the teacher. As a young parent I was feeling around the edges of my own incompleteness so that I could offer more to my sons. Emotional literacy felt pretty big.
Deep breath, yes, that’s a heavy admission to make publicly. Inhale, exhale.
So… yes with the direct language! Yes with speaking of our own experiences with authority! Yes to declarative statements! Yes to eye contact and squared shoulders and equally enthusiastic no’s and yes’s! And I hope we all have the patience to deal with toddlers and teenagers who test their abilities on the people closest to them. It was hard at 3 and 4 to listen to my kids tell me exactly why they hated wearing coats in the middle of January and it’s not really any easier hearing them say similar things ten years later. Seriously. Jackets. It’s winter, why are we even having this debate? Sigh.
It’s an interesting thing to see my kids use my tone of voice and my declarative way of speaking. It’s even funnier when they try to use it on me. I tell them I’m immune to that particular super power since it originated from me. Something I’m really glad I took the time to instill in them is that we can’t tell other people how they are feeling. We can only speak to our own emotions and then ask someone else how they are feeling too. I didn’t want the boys to be know it alls. That slippery slope was always a ride ready to be taken. Balance, right? We can speak with authority about ourselves and our experience; we have to ask other people about theirs.
Right now in this moment I’m learning a little more about being attuned to my loved ones without having this fear of overstepping. There is a nuanced clarity involved. I am going to name what I’m seeing. I’m seeing this feeling in you, is that right? It’s a new kind of balancing. I feel good about learning how to give this kind of attention because I have a solid foundation of not assuming I know how people are feeling. It feels like a new gift to give. A way of paying attention that is intimate and special but also requires skill and vulnerability.
I’m hoping that I’ll be able to teach this to my sons too. And it’s also entirely possible that they already know it and I’m just catching up to them. They’re smart like that.