The Whole-Brain Child: Feelings Come and Go

Not long ago Sunshine was having a sad time.  We sat close together and I explained to her that feelings come and go.  I told her that I understood that she felt sad, and it felt like it would never end, but that we would sit together until the biggest part of the sadness passed.  She nestled in next to me and we talked quietly; before long, she began to feel better and soon we moved on with our day.

The authors of The Whole-Brain Child write that “on average, an emotion comes and goes in ninety seconds.”

With only two chapters to go, our Book Group is heading into the final stretch of reading and discussing The Whole-Brain Child. This week we read Chapter 5: The United States of Me – Integrating the Many Parts of Self.  This chapter has three great strategies, one of which is Strategy #8 Let the Clouds of Emotion Roll By: Teaching that Feelings Come and Go.

I know this sounds like common sense, and it is, but I first heard this mentioned when we were in Nebraska for EMDR therapy.  Deb was working with Dimples and I think she described emotions as waves and talked about how feelings are like waves that come and go. As an adult, this is something we know from years of experience, but I hadn’t expressed it directly to my children.

When our child feels very sad, and for some of our children, these are BIG feelings, it  may seem so powerful that in that moment, she is sure that she will never feel better.   Emotions are real, and often appropriate for the situation, but when our child is in the midst of it, the wave feels like it will drown her and never flow back into the ocean.

I timed ninety seconds this morning and imagined how long it would feel if I were having a strong feeling of sadness, anger, or worry.  You know what?  It felt long – and if I were a child who didn’t know it was going to pass – it would have felt very long.

I know we are busy moms and it is hard to stop what we are doing to simply be present with our kids – but think about it – “on average, an emotion comes and goes in ninety seconds.”  Can we teach this to our children, and lend them our assurance that the feeling will pass?  Can we breathe with them – slowly, in and out? I think we can.

Of course, with each chapter I find myself not only thinking about my kids, but about myself.  How often am I struck by a strong emotion and feel overwhelmed by it?  Most often it is fear about the future or worry about something that I need to manage in my crazy schedule.  When I can pause and actually identify the feeling, I can tell myself (and I do), “This feeling is going to pass.  I’m okay.”  If it is a BIG feeling, I might step in to the laundry room, close the door, and breathe deeply, all the while saying in my mind, “I’m okay.  Jesus is with me.  I am not alone,” or something similar.

Book Group friends, discussion question for Chapter 5 will be up later today.  I’ll also be sending you an email soon asking your thoughts about the group format. Thank you so much for reading along with me and making me slow down to really think and take it all in.

Question: Does your child get trapped in feelings?  How would it help to teach him that feelings come and go?

Reflections on other chapters:

My reflections on Chapter 1: The River of Well-Being

My reflections on Chapter 2: Connect and Redirect

My reflections on Chapter 3: Three Steps to Regain Control

My reflections on Chapter 4: Memory – I Cried and Nobody Came

My reflections on Chapter 5: Feelings Come and Go

My reflections on Chapter 6: Why Fun Truly Matters

Have a great day, friends; thank you for sharing my life.

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Lisa

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

15 Comments

  1. Stephanie-Justin Smith
    November 29, 2012

    Wow, amazing how it's not my children who need to know this but me…. After a frustrating morning with a one and two year old, I let my big feelings get the best of me. How would I have felt and parented better had I only waited 90 seconds to let the emotions pass? I'm guessing my little boy wouldn't have been crying because mommy yelled at him for hurting his sister. Thank you for this….

    Reply
  2. Heidi
    November 29, 2012

    This reminds me of labor. Ninety seconds of a painful contraction seems like a long time, but knowing it will pass, that it is a wave which will come and go, helps make it bearable.

    The concept is helpful for me with my young children, who have big emotions.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 29, 2012

      Heidi – I'm sure this is still very fresh in your mind. You are so right, when we know it will pass, it makes it so much easier to bear.

      Reply
  3. Emily
    November 29, 2012

    I love Sunshine.

    One of my favorite things my parents ever taught me is from my dad when I was an overemotional 8th grader; he would sit at the kitchen table with me as I cried, hold my hand, and tell me "This too shall pass."

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 29, 2012

      You have such a good Dad, Emily.

      Reply
      1. Emily
        November 29, 2012

        true 🙂 (and your kids have a great mom and dad)

        Reply
  4. Kim
    November 29, 2012

    Yes! Oh, the youngest gets stuck, even when he's not longer feeling the Big Feeling. It's like he gets trapped there and isn't sure how to move on. I'm definitely going to try explaining to him that it's okay to ride the wave and then move on. We talk a lot about "turning it around," and this seems to fit with that. I think giving him that understanding that those Big Feelings aren't forever will be helpful.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 29, 2012

      Kim, I like the idea that we can ride through it – that seems easier than trying to stop the feeling and turn it around. I'm glad you like the idea – are you reading the book?

      Reply
  5. shannon2818
    November 29, 2012

    Sounds like a great book! My daughter is very emotional and I'm just not. Sometimes I struggle to understand her.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 29, 2012

      Shannon, it is a fantastic book; I can't recommend it highly enough.

      Reply
  6. nancileamarie
    November 30, 2012

    That is a great picture. I have wanted to read the book with you guys, but just haven't been able to yet. I had to return it to the Library, but maybe I will go ahead and invest in getting it. This is a great concept–for me and my little ones. Thanks, Lisa!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      November 30, 2012

      I think you will really enjoy the book. Maybe you can join us for our next pick!

      Reply
  7. Nathan
    December 1, 2012

    It occurs to me that as long as 90 seconds can feel to someone, the sense of drowning comes not from worries about surviving the current wave, but from the knowledge — conscious or unconscious — that the waves will just keep on coming. After all, they have in the past, so why would they quit now? When the same memory continually comes to the surface over and over and triggers the same intensely-emotional reaction each time, it can be unbearable. It leads one to the conclusion that “I’ve been here before, and it’s not getting any better with the passing of time.” In that case, you’re not dealing with consoling someone who is passing through an atomic 90-second wave. You’re dealing with several interconnected 90-second incidents in the course of a day which are then multiplied out over many years. When stuck in a repeat loop like that, those 90 seconds quickly add up. How do you help someone through that?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 1, 2012

      Nathan, that is such a good question. I'm not a professional, but the more I know about EMDR therapy, the more hope I have that it can help with disturbing memories that affect our emotions and our lives. It is worth considering. Ultimately, our only hope is in Jesus. After Dimples' last session, I told the therapist that the entire time she is working with Dimples, I am praying for the Holy Spirit to do a great healing work. He can do more to heal trauma in 1 minute than we can do in ten years of therapy.

      Reply
      1. Nathan
        December 13, 2012

        Is EMDR effective only on developing minds, or is it something that has been found to work for adults as well?

        Reply

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