Happy. Sad. Excited. Lonely. Joyful. Left out. Enthusiastic. Brave. Frustrated. Bold. These are some of the feelings I experience on a daily basis. The other day, I described to a friend that my emotional journey feels kind of like being on a paddleboard – some days, I feel so calm and peaceful and the water is like glass. I glide through effortlessly and feel such inner contentment and joyfulness. Other days, I seem to experience every single wave and all of the ups and downs and just hope I don’t fall off! I struggle through with great effort and I can feel frustrated and discouraged. It’s on these days, that I wish to be a ferryboat – a solid vessel of some kind – and not feel “every single ebb and flow of the water”. However, as this friend pointed out – then, although I wouldn’t feel every wave – I also wouldn’t feel anything! And I seem to be the type of person to savour every subtle nuance with respect to my feelings. This friend was right. And, changing my metaphor may just help me to change my perspective!

So, I have come to be very aware and very appreciative of my emotional journey – all the feelings I feel. I do savour each nuance of every positive emotion and I notice and work through each negative emotion. And although I’d rather have all positive emotions all of the time, this isn’t very realistic and I am not sure if I really want this – after all, isn’t the work we do through the negative emotions also the gateway to the more positive emotions?

As I continue to work with young girls on their learning and social and emotional development, I am coming to understand that we all need to share and process our feelings as much as we can. Feelings are such an integral part of learning and living. Feelings are there for a reason. Feelings help us to know a lot about our inner worlds. And the skills of paying attention to our feelings needs to be taught to girls – the sooner the better.

In the education system, there is a lot of focus on reading: in the primary years, it’s all about learning to read; in the intermediate years, it’s all about reading to learn. But, what about emotional literacy – learning to understand, interpret, and manage emotions? Learning about our own emotions and the emotions of others is as important as learning to read and understand language. Learning to connect with others on an emotional level and to feel and express empathy, compassion, and true understanding are essential coping skills and can help girls to learn about themselves, others, and the world around them.

Emotions are often not given a lot of airtime or attention. However, when we ignore, deny, suppress, dismiss, bottle up, brush away, minimize, or discount feelings, this can lead to bigger problems and, often, emotional difficulties. Feelings, unexpressed, can often turn into explosions of frustration and anger, shut down responses, or “numbing or zoning out”, especially via technology and social media. Our longing to connect has moved from eye contact, smiling, and physical touch, to “friending” others on Facebook and following others on Twitter!

Just like learning to read, emotional literacy takes time, repetition and practice, and lots of patience. To get started, consider these ideas:

  • Slow down and create space to consider and name your feelings – there are so many choices!
  • Remove all distractions and opportunities to multi-task and be present to yourself
  • Explore and write out all feeling words so you can consider your options – start naming your feelings
  • Express your feelings and explore reasons for your feelings – what contributed to feeling the way you do? For example, I am happy today because the sun is shining and I received a compliment from my teacher. Express your feelings to a trusted person or in your journal
  • Learn about feelings: did you know that feelings are not bad; they actually alert us and inform us what’s happening inside of us and they help us connect with others. Feelings can motivate us to change and help us learn about ourselves and other people
  • Learn to regulate your feelings – noticing, exploring, and expressing your feelings in healthy ways – can lower your stress and anxiety, improve your focus and attention, and increase your overall health and happiness
  • Learn to ask for what you need – once you practice and get skilled at naming and expressing your feelings, you can then ask for what you need – such as: a hug, a listening ear, some help with homework – the more you learn what you need, the more likely you will ask for help and this can lead to feelings of empowerment and confidence as well as connection

Although I can acknowledge that it’s unrealistic to be “happy all the time” and paddleboard on perfectly still water every single day, I have learned that going through a wide range of emotions feels healthy and helps me to feel happy – a lot of the time. I can notice days when things seem to be going my way and I am filled with joy and I know these days won’t last forever (nor should they). I also notice days when I am struggling and I have learned not to wish these feelings away (or wish to be a ferry boat). Instead, I step into these feelings. I acknowledge them and express them and go through them. In the process, I also learn a lot about myself and I can ask for what, exactly, I feel I need. Working through pain, discomfort, and the negative feelings, takes both effort and hard work but I know I am building up my resiliency and learning to “bounce back” from difficulty. And, at the same time, I am enjoying my emotional paddle boarding journey!

Young girls need to learn to be emotionally literate and this starts with the courage to name and explore all of their feelings, to practice expressing their various feelings, and to have patience with themselves as they learn how to navigate their emotions. And maybe, just like me, this requires girls to change their metaphors to change their perspectives!