Visiting Feelings: Teach Your Anxious Child How to Meet and Greet Emotions

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visiting feelings bookWe lucked out with an advance copy of Visiting Feelings (Magination Press, 2014) by Lauren Rubenstein, JD, PsyD, RYT. The book sports a 2014 publishing date, but it will actually be available in September 2013. Here comes an exclusive sneak preview on this artfully illustrated children’s book geared toward the 4 to 8 age range.

About the Book

Anger can be a big, thunderstorm cloud with lightning bolts shooting violently across the room. Excitement might be a swirling kaleidoscope of color and music, magical to the touch and sweet like cotton candy. Loneliness, well, he might be a squat, short grumpy fellow that is gushy and repulsive, not unlike stepping in cat puke.

We figured all this out after checking out Lauren Rubenstein’s Visiting Feelings book. The book is handsomely illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger and features quick, rhyming verse that helps children get to know their feelings.

That’s where the storm cloud, kaleidoscope and grumpy cat-puke guy come in. Children are encouraged to explore their feelings by imagining how the feelings look, what they remind them of, what they do to their bodies, how the feelings act. It invites children to invite feelings in to their “house” and get to know them through their five senses.

Is it light as a cloud, floating on air?
Or heavy and huge like a grizzly bear? 
 
Is it soft like your mom
when she whispers goodnight?
 
Or loud like a baby who fusses
and fights?

Visiting Feelings presents an exquisite lesson in mindfulness and dealing with emotions by letting children know its OK to feel however they may and to simply embrace the experience.

The book stresses that feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are.

Welcoming your feelings in, and actually making friends with them, is the best way to learn more about yourself and what your emotions are trying to teach you.

The lesson is simple, yet deep, and playfully accessible for children and adults alike.

A Note to Parents

The back of the book features a brief section for parents that more fully explains mindfulness and the purpose of the book. The section also offers several mindfulness exercises parents can use with their children to incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives.

About the Author

Lauren Rubenstein holds the titles of JD, PsyD, RYT, or doctor of law, doctor of psychology and registered yoga teacher. A clinical psychologist in private practice, she teaches yoga and mindfulness to children and adolescents. We sent several questions her way and here’s what she had to say:

What prompted you to write Visiting Feelings

The first lines of Visiting Feelings “visited” me while I was in savasana (the relaxing corpse pose) at the end of a yoga class. I was inspired by Rumi’s “Guest House” poem (which unfortunately did not make it into the book, but please read it.)

The Guest House
Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi 
(Translated by Coleman Barks and cited from AllPoetry.com)
 
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
 
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
 
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
 
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
 
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

The poem suggests that being human is like a guest house; feelings come and go, and we should treat each one like a guest, inviting it in.

I was also inspired by having studied iRest / yoga nidra with Richard Miller, PhD. This beautiful guided meditation practice takes Rumi one step further, asking us to experience feelings with all of our senses, using the non-judgmental observation skills that are at the heart of mindfulness.  So we invite a feeling in for a “play date,” in children’s terms.

Do you often use poetry and rhyme to teach children important lessons? 

Rhyme, verse and song are wonderful tools for teaching and learning. Since all children learn differently, the more senses you teach to, the more children you reach. Rhyming sun salutation instructions work well when teaching yoga to young children; they pick it up quickly.

One of my favorite mindfulness lessons is Betsy Rose’s rewrite of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” … take a breath! She has verses for anger, fear, sadness, and even not knowing what you’re feeling.

Do you find poetry style verse more helpful for straight-up prose for teaching lessons to younger children? If so, why? 

I don’t know if it’s more helpful, but it’s more fun! ; }

Seriously, the fact that there are rap songs to help kids learn math speaks to the wisdom of using rhyme. There is something so engaging about it.

What is typically the most difficult emotion for children to deal with? Why? 

It’s hard to say, although shame is thought to be the most painful human emotion. Some children (and adults) are more comfortable feeling angry, but have great difficulty acknowledging sadness. For some, sadness feels more acceptable than anger.

I think that, as a culture, we label the positive emotions as Good and the negative emotions as Bad. In truth, they are all passing feelings, and they are all part of the human experience. Just like the old story about going on a bear hunt, we can’t go over them, can’t go under them – we have to go through our emotions.

How do children generally deal with emotions they don’t want to face? 

Children use defense mechanisms, just like adults – perhaps with an emphasis on the more primitive forms like denial, projection, and reaction formation (e.g. a teacher loses her temper toward a student, and two minutes later the student runs up to the teacher and exclaims, “I love you!”). As cognitive capacity grows, we move into some of the higher level defenses like rationalization, intellectualization, and sublimation.

How can the lessons learned in your book help children going forward throughout the rest of their lives? 

We tend to be almost phobic about “bad” or negative feelings – “I’m angry, that’s Bad” – although anger is no more or less a set of passing thoughts and sensations than joy. Learning how to process feelings is a skill I wish I had been taught as a child. Many adults are still working on the ability to experience a feeling, engage with it, explore where it lives in the body – all while knowing it is there for a visit but will not take up permanent residence.

I hope children learn to appreciate that strong feelings can occur and they are just part of their experience, not their whole experience. Just like when we tell our kids their behavior might have been “bad” but they are not bad, we can feel sadness but not be consumed by it. This can help us meet any situation or set of feelings with greater equanimity.

One quick aside – where/how does your law degree fit into your current field of work? 

My law degree is so far removed from my current work that I asked my husband to read the book contract! Years ago I tried to incorporate it into my clinical psychology work by conducting child custody evaluations. Ultimately, that was a specialization best left to professionals with thicker skins than mine.

Anything else you want our readers to know?

I am donating the proceeds of this book to the Go Give Yoga Foundation. This summer I will take my fifth trip to Haiti to teach yoga to children living in extreme poverty, as well as to the adults who work with them.

I hope readers will take a look at our website, www.GoGiveYoga.org, like us on Facebook, and consider making a donation. The need there is astounding, and I hope that yoga and mindfulness practices will offer a respite from some of the suffering.

Thank you, Lauren Rubenstein! We also want to note that Rubenstein and her work with Go Give Yoga was featured in the Huffington Post.

…or buy the Visiting Feelings book when it’s available as all proceeds go to the foundation to help sustain its life-changing work.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren Rubenstein August 21, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Pre-order is available on Amazon at a reduced rate!

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Rebecca Wimer November 24, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I just bought this book. Thank you for featuring it. This is a very helpful site!

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