A Reflection on Section 3, ‘Feelings’, from The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read By Philippa Perry
Barbara Isaacs, June 2021
Perry sees this section in her book, which addresses feelings, as one of the most important; it is also the section which offers some very useful advice on what to do and not to do as parents, whilst reminding us it is never too late to change our ways. She urges parents to share with their children’s nursery teachers and childminders that they prefer their children’s “feelings to be emphasised rather than something to be distracted from” (Perry 2019:79) and there is also much we can take from this chapter as early years educators and carers for young children.
I know we have all done it – trying to distract a child from their expression of sadness, anger or fear. We have all done it because we ourselves feel uncomfortable witnessing our children’s behaviours which express these emotions and because we feel somehow responsible for them and need to fix them and help them to feel happy. Perry (2019:74) explains:
“If you treat your child’s sadness, anger or fears not as negatives to be corrected but as opportunities to learn more about them and to connect with them, then you will deepen your bond with them. Then, there is every likelihood you will increase their capacity for happiness.”
For me the biggest lesson from the parenting classes I attended when our daughter was four and her brother just turned one, was that not all the challenges and difficulties are of my making. However, even today I sometimes feel responsible for my children’s difficulties in life and have an urge to somehow fix them for them. I absolutely recognise that this is a tall order, and so continue to learn from Perry’s wisdom as I admire my daughter’s own parenting.
Perry urges us to try to know and identify better our own emotions, reactions and triggers to certain behaviours; this understanding of our own feelings will help us see the situation through the child’s eyes rather than our own. It will enable us to feel with them, rather than for them. It should help us to also recognise that we may need help to manage certain situations or that we just need to step aside and let others feel with the child. For me Perry’s advice also brings up a question about the role of key persons in our nursery settings (but that is probably for another blog or webinar conversation!) She reminds us that:
“Empathy is harder work than it may at first seem. It is not about giving up your own point of view but about truly seeing and understanding why the other feels as they do” (Perry 2019:78).
Accepting each child for who they are is a vital step towards creating a meaningful relationship based on mutual trust. This relationship is not built on having a new toy, the latest trainers or being the cleverest or richest – it is about feeling understood and as Perry puts it “being got” – the child feeling connected.
What is Perry’s advice for getting to know and understand the child’s behaviours which express the full range of their emotions?
Rupture and repair and feeling
This advice is so aligned with Montessori’s idea of reflecting on our own actions and practice when things do not work out. We all sometimes put our own feelings before the child’s, speak crossly to them or ignore their pleas for attention; as adults we need to be able to acknowledge and admit that we are wrong or that our own behaviour has been unjustified. I think this is particularly so in the nursery setting when we have so many children expressing a full range of emotions, often without having the language to really say what they are feeling. Being able to acknowledge their feelings is important: “I see you are missing your mummy” or “I can see you find this frustrating” or “I can see you are angry, but I cannot let you hurt another child” can all be useful tools for helping children recognise their own feelings and speak about them as they mature. Perry speaks about her delight when her daughter first said “I am going to get angry soon” to which she was able to respond “Yes, it is really annoying isn’t it?” Just stop and think for a moment how different this conversation is to those we have had with out own children or children at the nursery when they got angry?
I have already mentioned the need for the child to experience being “felt with, not dealt with”; I would recommend reading Perry’s vignette of Nova’s father helping his daughter in a situation which turned out differently to the way she expected. Perry highlights the difficulties of being able to acknowledge the child’s own feelings in situations when we feel differently about them. Perry (2019:70) says “We all want to be felt with rather than dealt with. We want someone else to understand how we feel so we do not feel lonely with that feeling”. This is a wise consideration for not only our family relationships but also those at work, particularly in nursery environments where we work so very closely together, and the harmony and calmness of the adults significantly impact the children’s behaviours.
In this section, Perry explores “Monsters under the bed” and the way we can help a child deal with them and how this impacts our future lines of communication. I have referred several times in these blogs to Perry’s advice on the need to accept and validate the child’s every mood. Her thoughts about the demands for happiness are interesting and remind us that to be happy we need to be able to feel the full range of emotions. And finally she shares her thoughts on the dangers of distracting children away from their feelings. She also offers us a couple of exercises to think about our own emotions.
As I come to the end of my reflection on this chapter – I must agree – it is the most important part of this book because it helps us unravel some of the complexities of our own and our children’s feelings and the role we can play in helping children to think, talk and understand their own feeling. At the end of the section she reminds us: (Perry, 2019:81)
“A baby can’t but be their feelings. In time, a child can learn to observe their feelings as a way of containing them – but they cannot learn to do this alone. They need someone to accept and hold their feelings as they grow up.”
Join us at our last Book Club before our Summer Break, when we explore this section of Philippa Perry’s book. Register now to join us on Tuesday 15 June 2021 at 19.00 (BST).