23. Feelings

Most teachers, especially primary teachers, spend time teaching children about feelings. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, (Thank you, Abe Lincoln, for finding the right words) who are we to teach children about feelings? They haven’t had as much time to unlearn the important part as we have. Most adults – even female adults – have had all kinds of life experiences that may qualify children to teach us about feelings.
Lest I be accused of adult-bashing, let me accentuate the positive for a while. It’s not our fault that we have lost touch with our feelings. Our culture is not one that encourages awareness of all emotions. Calling someone emotional in our culture is often a form of criticism. I’m sure many of you remember how much praise Jackie Kennedy got for not “falling apart” on that awful day in 1963. To give her credit, I’m pretty sure she did “fall apart,” and it was just media interpretation that rewrote that part of history.
Our teaching about feelings had better take into account that we don’t have all the answers. I recently saw a well-meaning teacher say to a child dealing with her parents’ divorce, “But your Mommy and Daddy will always both love you.” I saw the look on the child’s face, and even at the tender age of six, she looked as if she was skeptical about this sweeping statement. Another child may have really needed to hear this, but this particular child may have needed to hear something different, or to be heard. Maybe Mommy or Daddy was not going to love her, or at least not going to behave in a way that should be a model for what love ought to look like.
I have seen teachers focus well on children’s feelings, descriptively, not prescriptively. I’ve tried to do that myself. Our experience can qualify us to be wise on the subject, and to help children keep or recover the awareness they started out with, but I’ve also seen adults bequeathing their own neuroses to children. So if you have been putting off getting in touch with your own feelings and learning to manage them well, your influence on children is another good reason to move it up on your priority list. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, neither, or both, emotional health is a marvelous gift to give children.

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