Last month I had Grandma’s Camp at our house. It was a lot of fun. For several days my grandchildren and I played and did activities together.
I had checked out a movie from the library - geared especially for little children - and we decided to watch it. But - my little five-year-old granddaughter looked at the cover, and said, “It’s too scary for me.” Since it was a very child-friendly movie, I said, “Oh, I think it will be okay.”
This wonderful, precocious, dear-to-my-heart granddaughter said, very earnestly, “It won’t be okay to me.”
We didn’t watch the movie. Instead, we played a game, and had a lot more fun.
My granddaughter actually was speaking about a principle, although she would not have called it that, and didn’t realize that’s what it was. The principle is this: An experience has no meaning in and of itself. It’s how we interpret those experiences that provides the meaning and emotion.
It certainly wasn’t wrong for my granddaughter to decide that the movie would cause her to feel scared. It was a pro-active thing for her to do, actually, and it helped her remain in charge of her own self. She didn’t blame herself for being “weak,” and she didn’t compare herself to others and wonder why her sister wasn’t scared of the movie. She just looked inside HER, and said, “Oh, no, I don’t think I will watch that, because I think it will be scary.”
I didn’t want to talk her into watching the movie, because I think it’s important that she know she can honor her own feelings. I want her to be comfortable deciding what it is that she’s feeling, and I want her to be in charge of what she does when she faces feelings. I was very proud of her for being able to articulate something about her inner feelings, and want to make sure that I support her in that process.
Sometimes there are times when we need to confront a feeling. For example, I’ve had children who tell me, “I can’t go to sleep, Mom, because I’m afraid of the dark.” Obviously this is a time when you have to teach a child about how we can choose what to believe. We point out facts, such as: Dark happens. Our house is safe. We help the child learn how to take their feeling, analyze it, and make decisions about what to believe. We point out the evidence. This, too, is based on understanding a principle. The principle is this: An emotion is a feeling PLUS a thought. It’s not just a feeling alone. When we’re afraid, we do feel fear, but we feel that fear because of a thought about the situation. “Dark is scary.”
Essentially, what we can do in this type of scenario, is teaching the FEAR process, helping that understand the source of their discomfort. Sometimes FEAR is this: False Evidence Appearing Real. So we help them understand.
Knowing that feelings are important, we can choose what to do with them based on principle. Different situations require different responses, but they can always be based on well-reasoned principles.