There is much written about the healthy display and expression of emotions, not just in adoption literature, but in education, psychology and parenting resources as well. “Use your words” is the bridge between a tantrum and a reasonable response. What happens though when your child cannot use her words yet? Even worse, what happens when the child has many words in her head but physically cannot say them? For starters, Mom is frustrated and helpless to communicate and daughter just gets plain mad.
This is where we found ourselves almost from the beginning with Grace. Grace is inquisitive, clever and so very smart, yet she is recovering from two major surgeries. Two major surgeries with two major complications resulting from those surgeries. So, she is not only learning to use the new mechanisms of lips, nose and palate but she is doing so with extra scarring and tightness that is not the norm. Add to that this intense desire to communicate, especially when she is upset. Like most people I know, (especially her Mom) she has the need to be heard. Really heard and understood. Watching her tantrums escalate, and knowing behind those beautiful dark eyes that look like mine there was a desperation to be known and heard. Well, it broke my heart and made this mama sad.
In my great need for my daughter to be heard, I collaborated with her amazing speech therapist on a plan to let her be heard. She devised some “emotion cards” (for lack of a better word) to assist in those stressful high intensity tantrums of grief or anger to allow Grace to “speak her mind” and heart. The trigger for the tantrum or grief could be anything from that unexplained pain that is in process of healing in her little spirit or that she wanted eight lollipops instead of one. Different triggers but same response. So, the cards give a picture of an emotion, a word to go along with it and the very best part, CHOICE. Grace gets to choose how she feels and I hear her.
Imagine my surprise when these little cards halted the train wreck of fit and frustration. Literally stopped the crying or screaming or yelling on a dime as Grace picked her card as if we were playing Go Fish. Once her card was picked, I would ask if she felt like the person represented and she would nod and repeat the word shaking her head and off she would go triumphantly to play. Off she would go with cards in hand because these things have some power!! I have had several friends request a set for their spouses. “Honey, just pick the card to let me know how you feel…we don’t have to talk, just pick the card dear.” I may set up an Etsy shop. These things are golden. So surprising what transpires when our hearts are heard.
The icing on the cake is happening now. When Grace brings me a book and shows me with her determined pointer finger and ever increasing articulated speech a person with an emotion that she knows. She knows the word; she knows the emotion, how it feels and what it looks like. Even more fun is the chance to act those emotions out! To be “mad” in the mirror and “surprised” on the Iphone camera and to even dramatize “sad” to her siblings in play is just plain great! Really great for those scarred lips to pucker and pout too! She gets it and she owns it and she is gaining control when most things seemed far out of her control in this season of all of things new. We are communicating with new words and definitions yes; but we are communicating on a much deeper level. I can meet her where she is and offer a way out. A safer and better way for her to experience true emotions that run deep, but to be heard. Really heard.
And that makes us both really happy.