Where is it in your body?

We can help our kids with strong feelings by teaching them to notice their body sensations, and what they are trying to say, writes Steve Biddulph.

Ravi is eight years old; a sweet-natured boy who adores his older sister Satya.

Despite the four years between them, they have always been the dearest companions.

But this morning, getting ready for school, there was a huge blow-up between the two of them.

Satya ended up yelling at the top of her lungs for Ravi to “stop bugging me!” and stormed off to catch her bus.

Ravi was distraught. He went to his room in tears.

His mum gave him a few minutes and then went in to see if she could comfort him. She worried that he would be late for school but knew that without some calming down, his day would not go very well.

She sat beside him on the bed.

“How are you going?” she asked gently. He didn’t answer.

“Satya was really loud and mean to you back then. It must have been a surprise?”

“Yes,” Ravi snuffled.

“And now it’s left you feeling awful?”

“She hates me!” he said.

“Well, it feels pretty bad to be talked to in that way.”

“I hate her! I don’t want to be her brother anymore.”

“OK! Can I ask you Ravi, can you feel the bad feeling in your body?”

He replied, “Yes.”

“Where does that bad feeling live right now?” his mum asked.

There is a pause. “It’s in my throat.”

“OK, just feel it there. What is it like?”

Ravi said, “It’s tight, my whole throat is tight.”

OK. A pause. “Ravi, what do you think your throat is wanting to say to you?”

He thinks for a bit. “Mum, remember when we went ice skating? And Satya held my hand and we skated around?”

“Yes, it was your birthday,” she replied.

“Satya isn’t the same, Mum. She doesn’t want to play with me anymore.” He starts to cry.

“You’re really sad; you wish it was like it used to be with you two, when we first moved here.”

Ravi is sitting up now, leaning into his mum. “I had better get going to school!”

“Yes, I will help you get going…”

Often when children get upset, it’s hard to know what to do or say.

When I was a kid, parents used to say things like, “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

Even today, we still get it wrong – we try to distract children, or reason with them, or try and talk them out of feeling bad.

Ravi’s mum knew something extra that she could do. She asked Ravi whereabouts in his body the feeling lived and, when he found it, “what does the feeling want to say to you?”.

Our bodies hold unique and “right now” wisdom about our situation, known as “felt sense” and if we follow this it can often uncover hidden truths.

Ravi isn’t angry at his sister, really. He is grieving that she is growing up and not his little friend like she was.

Life has sadness built in sometimes, and all we can do is be there for our kids as they suffer through that.

He came a long way in the three or four minutes they spent, and knows something new: that bugging his sister won’t turn back the clock, but they can still be friends in a growing way as she enters puberty and lives more in the world of her girlfriends.

Ravi’s mum might have a word with her to not forget her little brother and still have some times with him, but she won’t force her to stay a child. She knows her daughter is growing up.

Listening to body feelings is often a wonderful help for kids with their difficult emotions.

It helps them realise that “there is something inside them” which is angry, or sad, or frightened, but that’s not the whole of them.

Perhaps they can draw the bad feeling, choose a colour for it, and this helps to explore it, listen to it, and get it to a more peaceful place.

By using the body’s own wisdom, we can help them have a skill for life, that they will carry inside them long after we have gone.