“How Do you Feel?” by Anthony Browne

Hi, how are you doing?

Where I come from, you are expected to answer this greeting with a complaint. Anything negative you can think of and share. Something about your health, weather, or the political situation. Now I live in the US, a country of happy, healthy and successful people, where the only correct response to “How are you?” is “Good!”. Unfortunately, in my opinion, nothing good comes from either rhetorical style, as both of them promote hiding or denying our feelings. Of course,  I am not saying we should unbosom ourselves to strangers, but I do think that this simple exchange of greetings exposes some kind of emotional masquerade, which we willy-nilly join and teach to our children. Ask my three-year-old about how he is doing and you will hear a confident “Great!”  Shouldn’t a preschooler be a bit less conventional?

I was happy we came across “How Do You Feel” by Anthony Browne. In this charming book, a little Chimp contemplates his different emotions. Sometimes he feels happy, but sometimes sad. He  knows the feeling of lonely, bored and confident. The book ends with a question to the reader about their own feelings in various situation, which is a great way to start talking about children’s emotions and  feelings.

When we read this book for the first time and I asked my son how he felt, he answered decisively: happy.  At first, I was happy to hear it. After all, I do want him to be happy. But on second thoughts, I suspected he gave me the answer I wanted to hear. He knows I want him to be happy.  I repeat it often enough. Well, I do want him to be a happy child, but I do not want him to deny that sometimes he feels sad, angry or frustrated. There is nothing wrong with that.   I owed him an explanation:

1. Feelings are a part of us and life. If someone hurts us, we feel sad. When we miss our friends, we can feel lonely. When we practice, we feel confident about our performance and when we win, we feel happy. We should respect our feelings and feelings of other people.

2. Feelings are not good or bad as such and they don’t make us good or bad people. 

3. Feelings are quite tricky.  There are many look-alikes among feelings. Cranky and tired. Lonely and sad. Vain and confident. It is important to  find out what we really feel, so we can either enjoy the feeling again or prevent it. For example if we feel cranky, perhaps we are hungry, or tired. Perhaps more sleep and regular meals could help us to avoid the crankiness. If reading makes us happy, maybe we should read more often to feel happy more often?

It is important to think about feelings, in order to be able to take control over our emotions. But we should not over-analyze or get sentimental, as it is an easy way to get lost in a feeling and become its victim. 

Know your feelings  —-> Name your feelings —> Take action/control

Feelings were more of a taboo in my house. My father, a typical thinker and introvert, never talked about feelings. It was for him a sign of a weakness.  My mom, a typical feeler, and pessimist, struggled with putting her emotions in words and bluntly caricatured them.  Confidence was for her vanity, enthusiasm boiled down to silliness,  ambition was always over-ambition, sadness-moodiness, and so forth.  As a result, I never discussed my lows and highs with my parents, for one. Secondly, I started second-guessing my feelings. Was I positive or naive, assertive or inconsiderate, happy or maybe not?

Well, it took me a while, but I’ve found peace with my emotions and feelings.  In time to be able to discuss them with my own children.

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