“It starts within your heart” began as a phrase I started using with my then 8 year old. Her 5 year old brother had gotten angry, yelled at her for something she didn't do and she was mad. When I went in to ask her something, she got angry with me. It would have been easy to get mad back, and in many previous situations I had, but on this day I didn't. I took a deep breath and tried something new. I put the back of my hand on her chest with my fingers pinched together. I explained she had all these feelings in her heart, and I started wiggling my fingers. Sometimes those feelings are so strong that they stretch out through your body, fly through the air and hit the people around you. In this case, her brother’s anger had hit her, made her angry and now that anger was coming out to me. I asked her if she was really mad at me. She thought about it for a beat and said “No”.
I knew at the time that this was not a one time, set it and forget it, miracle cure. However it did establish a visual context within which we could talk about her feelings. (The thumbnail of the heart with the different colored lines that you see associated with the blog was a painting I did to further help visualize the concept.) I started asking her if those were the feelings from her heart or was she bouncing off someone else’s feelings. We were able to start a dialogue on common ground that made her stop and think twice before reacting to an emotion.
Over time the analogy and description has grown and transformed. In addition to those feelings “flying” through the air, I also like the image of your heart being like a still pond. When different emotions are “dropped” in the center of your heart, they create a ripple outward. Bigger emotions create bigger ripples that are felt by more people. Smaller emotions may create smaller ripples, but the impact can still be felt throughout your body. The important thing was that we kept talking about emotions, how we were feeling and how those feelings were making those around us feel. Don’t get me wrong, we still had many days where flying emotions landed everyone in a bad mood. But on the flip side we also had days where we were able to talk about the real reason they were upset and getting mad at each other. Needless to say it’s a process - an hour by hour, day by day, process of just trying to handle things a little bit better each time.
Fast forward to last weekend. It was Sunday afternoon and the kids were playing nicely together in the back yard (or so I thought). My now 10 year old daughter came in the house and said to me “Mommy I need your help. I’m about to get really frustrated and I don’t know what to do.” In short, her brother was getting frustrated because he couldn't do something as well as she could and that frustration was causing him to get mad at her. She was trying hard to get mad back at him but as his anger mounted it was getting harder for her to hold back. Wow! It took everything I had to hold my smile back (because obviously this was not something to be happy about from her perspective). I said to her “First I want to tell you how proud I am that you came in here to ask for my help in fixing this before you got mad. It makes me so happy that you did that and I’m so proud of you. Now, let’s think of a good way to handle this.” We came up with an idea where she could help him to a point, but then hand it over to him so he would feel like he completed it on his own. She went back outside and told him about her idea. A few minutes later, she came back in with a smile from ear to ear. “Mommy that was a great idea! It really worked!”
It starts within your heart has become a reminder that every mood, attitude and reaction is within our power to influence. It’s easy to let surrounding emotions bounce off of us and impact our own feelings. With practice we can be more aware and stay true to the feelings that make us unique. In the beginning I wasn't sure if the concept was too complex for a child to grasp. Happily I can say I was wrong, they totally get it. Not only that, but they are also mature enough to apply it and use it to make a difference. Never underestimate the power of the heart!