One evening my daughter seemed full of manic energy, running around the house, everything was making her giggle. We played lots of games, she pulled pillows off our bed, and ran away. I grabbed the pillows back, and picked her up, pretending she was as a pillow, saying, ”I must put this pillow back on my bed.” She laughed and laughed.
I think she’s going to have a big cry soon, I told my husband, wanting him to know in an advance, as it can be a big shock, when suddenly fun and games turns into a big meltdown. Beneath the wild energy, I could sense some big emotions.
We started getting ready for bed, and my daughter suddenly said, ‘’I want to read sad stories!’’
It seemed such a funny thing to say, but I started looking for our ‘sad’ books, which are stories about seperation, usually involving a mummy animal who gets separated from her child, and then they are united at the end of the book.
In ‘‘Bedtime Billy Bear,’’ a mummy bear goes out for the evening while a babysitter looks after Billy. Billy can’t sleep well as he’s worried about his mum getting home in the dark.
We read this story a lot when she was going through some seperation anxiety after trying a new playgroup, and being babysat with my friend. She would ask to read the story over and over again, and each time the mummy bear came back, she would have a big cry.
Evenutally, we had read the book so many times that she just smiled at the end, as if whatever emotion the book evoked had been healed. When she’d let out all of her own emotion, we could talk about how I’d leave her, but I’d always come back, and she understood and felt confident about it.
We also have a book called ”Monkey Puzzle” by Julia Donaldson. This is about a monkey that gets lost in the woods, and a butterfly helps him to find his mum, but she keeps taking him to the wrong animal, a spider, frog, and an elephant. Eventually they find his mum and have a big hug. My daughter always burst into tears when they hug at the end.
We hadn’t read this one for a long time, as she said she didn’t want to read it. The moment at the end just seemed to sad for her, and I never suggested we read it. But tonight we couldn’t find ‘‘Bedtime Billy Bear.’’
‘‘How about Monkey Puzzle?’’ I asked my daughter.
‘No, that one is too sad,’’ she said.
‘’But remember at the end when the baby monkey finds the mummy monkey? It’s nice isn’t it?’’
‘‘Okay, I want it.’’ She said.
I started reading the book, and at the end when the mummy hugs the baby monkey she started crying. I gentle reassured her, that the monkey was safe and back with his mummy, which made her cry even more. It was as if the sense of safety of the reunion, allowed her to release her own fears about seperation.
Then she asked to read it again! We read Monkey Puzzle one more time, and then she said, ‘’I want to read a happy book now!’’
Afterwards she was really relaxed, and all of the mania of earlier had gone. She fell asleep really happy and contented.
Feelings can sometimes seem big and scary, and adults and children alike get stuck in patterns of running away from them. This evening was such a great example of what can happen when children have regular experiences of fully feeling their feelings, and releasing them, without adults trying to distract or stop them. She actually knew she wanted to let go of the upset, and that sad books would help.
We all want our children to be happy and sometimes that means being sad for a while. It’s not about forcing our children to face their feelings, when they aren’t ready to, but gently listening, so that they learn that feelings aren’t always so big and scary after all, that sadness, is just something like grey clouds, that pass by, revealing sunshine beyond them.