by Marcia Williams
When I started writing The Fantastic Book of Feelings - A Guide to Being Happy, Sad and Everything In-Between, I had no idea that we were about to be side-swiped by Covid-19. So the book is not, as it may seem, a timely reaction to the extra pressures of a worldwide pandemic, but a book to celebrate, support and champion young people as they negotiate their way through all that life throws at them – which now includes lockdowns. The further I get away from my own youth, the more I admire young people’s incredible resilience and emotional trust and enthusiasm for life. Most adults that I know have managed to build up walls to protect themselves; young children don’t have these and their responses to life’s ups and downs can be amazingly honest, direct and sometimes agonisingly raw. This book helps children express their feelings productively and without harm to themselves or others.
We are all very aware of the importance of emotional well-being, but in a world that can batter us from all sides it is not always easy to achieve. Social and emotional learning is key to many, if not all, facets of our daily life: our relationship skills, our decision making, our interest in learning, our ability to find happiness and fulfilment in our work and home life. Anything that we can do to help young people put down firm emotional roots must be worthwhile. During the first lockdown, a four year old friend of mine became very fearful and full of uncontrolled anger. One day he said that everybody hated him because he was angry all the time and that soon I would hate him too. No child should feel like that, especially at four years old. It helped me realise that the fact he knew the name of every dinosaur meant nothing, that he wouldn’t be able to achieve his potential and enjoy his interests if he did not have the emotional skills to stop him being overwhelmed by his feelings. This is a life-long learning project – I’m still working on my emotional well-being, but maybe if I had been offered some emotional tools in my childhood, I wouldn’t need to work quite so hard! Indeed, most of my friends were taught to keep their feelings to themselves, which is neither healthy nor helpful – we just ended up being little volcanoes, ready to fire-off at the smallest spark!
Besides a life of observation I am not an expert on children’s emotions, so I am greatly indebted to Andrea Obholzer, a consultant psychologist, who was my advisor throughout the process of creating The Fantastic Book of Feelings. As well as advising me on tried and tested coping tools, Andrea helped me create stories based on real life children’s experiences of dealing with their feelings, which I hope is a format that will put some of the difficulties of learning to master our emotions into a context that children will relate to. I hope it will open a dialogue between the reader and a trusted adult: that through exploring how other young people have managed to find a way of overcoming their own shyness, sadness, anger or whatever, the reader will feel empowered to do the same.
I think that as adults we often fall into the trap of trying to fix everything for our children, take away what hurts, remove the source of anger, avoid the cause of fear or shyness. But throughout our life children are going to come up against all sorts of challenges and if we want young people to grow into strong, happy adults we need to help them find coping mechanisms, rather than protect them from everything. Tools that help young people embrace their whole range of emotions, as a part of live, give them a better chance of being able to use their talents and fulfil their dreams.
The older I get the more aware I am of how many young people struggle to make sense of their world, and whilst sympathy and immediate support are vital, in the long term what we all need is the tools to help ourselves manage fluctuating emotions that are a normal part of life. The book has a “First Aid Box for Feelings”, full of ideas that the young reader can use to help take control of their emotions rather than be their victim.
I am delighted that Walker Books is also supporting children with a First Aid Box based on the book that can be downloaded online. I hope this will be a useful recourse for children, parents and teachers and help children create a First Aid Box tailored for their own needs. Children can have fun making and decorating their own box and then filling it with the support tools that appeal to them. For instance, if a child is anxious because they are about to perform in the school play, they can download suggestions for keeping their anxiety at a level where it helps, rather than hinders their performance. I hope that the online tools will also be a useful resource for classroom discussion and display.
One of the most heart-warming aspects of working on the book was interviewing children themselves, particularly for the page on what makes them happy. Not one child mentioned possessions: what was most often mentioned was family, friends and kindness. If I came away with one main thought from researching this book it is the value of kindness - I believe it may be the key to all our well-being and that just one drop of kindness has the power to create the most fantastic feelings of love, happiness and a general sense of well-being.
My eight year old granddaughter, Cora, has just said that I should stop writing all these words and just write that The Fantastic Book of Feelings is a fun way for kids to learn to know, understand and be the boss of their feelings from happy to sad, angry and annoyed – and yes, that’s just about it!