At a conference I was at recently Louise Bomber the author of ‘Inside I’m Hurting’ made a comment on how to help children deal with the difficult sides to their emotions – the anger, the frustration, the shame. She talked about the fact that when we talk to children about them being ‘good’ or indeed ‘bad’ it sends the message that confirms what they already believe about themselves – that THEY are bad! As much as we try to say “no that was a bad thing you did, not YOU are bad” the message they receive is that those difficult emotions are too hard for us to handle, and that means THEY are too hard to handle.
It’s started a thought process in me around this whole area of how we communicate with children who have experienced trauma. As much as we can understand that behaviour modification techniques are not what these children need, we still struggle to get away from the need to make them behave, act and feel in the way we think is acceptable.
As an adult there are many parts of my personality and temperament that I struggle with – the things deemed to be the negative emotions – anger, frustration, jealousy, pride – I could go on. BUT the problem with making judgements about emotions is that for these children the emotions are so intense and they truly believe they can not control their emotions, when we then make a judgement that being angry is bad – the message again to that child is that they are bad – as they can not control that ‘bad’ part of their character.
I heard recently of a member of staff at a school running a circle of friends group – they were looking through scenarios of when children fall out. There was one where a child was upset by something that someone had done to him, so he then went and did something back to that child – broke their toy for example. The member of staff then made the well intentioned comment “of course we wouldn’t do that though would we?”. Whilst I understand her meaning, for that child steeped in toxic shame who does do those things as a result of intense anger, he would have received the message that he must be such a bad person to do something that no-one else would dare do.
So how can we help children to integrate all the different emotions they feel? Again Louise Bombers brilliant advice was to use the language of ‘different parts’. That a child may have an angry part, a frustrated part, a fun part, a clever part, an upset part, a giggly part – lots and lots of parts that make the whole person – just like us! None are good or bad, they all make up the whole – a human being!