When my children were little and they got sick, I would take their temperature. Taking a temperature is an effective way to gauge the degree of sickness in a small child. Children have difficulty expressing what hurts, where it hurts, and to what degree it hurts. A small child can cry more over a skinned knee than they will cry when they have the flu. So instead of using crying as a gauge, we take their temperature. It’s more reliable.
Did you know that you can take the emotional temperature of your family?
You can! Try this.
For the next week, listen. Listen to the words that you and your family use to describe the day, a situation, or an experience. Write down all the emotion words you hear used. This is a fact-finding journey! Be the detective and just take note.
You may find that your family is stuck using the same words over and over. Most people will only use about a dozen words to describe their feelings. Only a dozen! There are over 1000 words to describe positive emotions and over 2000 to describe negative emotions! First, that’s a lot of words we never use. Second, it tells me we are a lot more concerned about expressing our negative thoughts than expressing our positive ones.
Why does this matter?
If you have a child that is constantly “angry.” Listen to their words. If “angry” is the only word a child knows to express how they feel; they will always be angry. What if…you could help that child be only “slightly upset” or “frustrated” or “sullen?” Explain to your children that there are varying degrees of being upset, just like there are degrees of sickness?
If you have a child that is constantly “fine,” could you help that child see that there are more words to describe how they are feeling? Perhaps they are really contented, glad, or joyful; but if they never have access to those words in their vocabulary they will never know. Just like negative emotions, positive emotions have degrees as well.
A limited vocabulary, leads to a limited emotional range; which limits us to only using specific areas of our emotional thermometer. Imagine how that must feel to be either 98.6 degrees (fine), or 102 degrees (angry or mad). Share with your children the degrees of emotion and depth that happen between those two degrees (98.6 & 102) by teaching them the words that express those degrees.
Who knows! Maybe your kids aren’t just fine…maybe they are amazing!
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