catharsis. noun. The process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. ‘music is a means of catharsis for them’ (Oxford Living Dictionaries)
“It’s important to recognize how you are feeling at different times and to express your feelings appropriately. If you’re angry, it’s better to tell someone than to keep it inside. If you’re happy, it’s hard to keep your excitement to yourself. Expressing your feelings will help you deal with them. Telling someone you trust and sharing your feelings in a conversation almost always makes you feel better. When you’re aware of what you feel, it is usually easier for you to get along with others.” (Shapiro, 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills)
It’s important to have a good vocabulary of “feeling words” for expressing yourself, like angry, sad, anxious, confused, frustrated, disgusted, scared, happy, excited, and proud. There are times, though, when it’s more effective to express your feelings by accessing the physical sensations in your body or by using creative imagery. If you are feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable in your skin, you might say “I feel silly, nothing’s quite right.” If your speech feels awkward and you can’t remember which words to use, you might say “There’s a moth stuck in my mouth.” If your thinking is slow and your mind feels mushy, you might say, as Aella Webb-Auger once told me, “My brain is like the oatmeal I had for breakfast this morning.”
Something my Phoenix family doesn’t know about me is that I run songwriting workshops for adults. I’ve been doing it for eight years at various conventions and festivals. One piece of advice I give to my songwriting students is this: if you are writing about an emotional experience in your life, access the physical sensations – mental images, tastes, smells, the sensations on your skin or in your gut – that go with the emotions, and put them into words. The same practice works for expressing your feelings, as Shapiro recommends, in order to feel better – to achieve catharsis.
You can interpret and integrate these ideas any way you like for yourself and your kiddos. At the end of the day, I think we all agree that identifying and expressing your feelings is an important skill, and the more tools we can give our kids for healthy awareness and expression of their emotions, the better.
I shall leave you with a song I wrote for my Phoenix family, about the creative use of language to express uncomfortable feelings. Here’s There’s A Rock In My Shoe.
RECOMMENDED: 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills by Lawrence E. Shapiro, Ph.D.
Vanessa Farkas is a writer, musician, educator, and lifetime learner who worked at the Phoenix Education Foundation as a music teacher from 2010-2018 and has left to retrain and pursue a new career as a legal assistant. Her eight years at Phoenix have left her enriched with experiences and stories, and this series blends those stories and experiences with practical advice and perspectives on helping children develop social skills. Names have been changed throughout this series, but, in this case, Aella Webb-Auger’s real name has been used for proper attribution of her excellent quote.