As with most siblings – our two are a world apart.  Lark is physically active, bordering on aggressive sometimes, whilst Owl is reflective and occasionally sullen and shut off.  The more time I spend with Owl the more I’m concerned about his emotional gaps.  We’re going through a rough patch at the moment. Owl is overwrought with emotions, unable to make decisions even bursting into tears when asked what chocolate they would like.

A perfect example of how on edge Owl is happened the other day.  Both kids, in typical end of term fatigue, were grumpy with each other.  When they had to do homework both complained about not being able to play with the other, and yet, when homework was done within minutes they were fighting.  I headed into the living room and said ‘What is going on here, why are you two being so horrible to each other?’  – Lark sat down and calmly thought and within minutes said “You know mum, I’m tired and really hungry, sorry I’m being so grumpy”.  Owl then burst into tears.  Now dinner was on (almost burning dry) and what I thought would be a 3 minute conversation about appreciating each other suddenly turned into so much more.  I asked Owl to head upstairs to calm down for a minute, whilst I dashed into the kitchen to turn off the stove.

I then went upstairs and reassured Owl they were not in trouble, but I can’t talk to them when they are crying and screaming at me “ I DON’T KNOW WHY I’M BEING SO GRUMPY”.  I gave Owl a cuddle and then sat them on my lap to talk about ‘why’ – as in ‘why am I doing this’.  I gave an analogy about going to a doctor – when you walk in the first thing they ask is ‘Why are you here today’ – I explained that if you didn’t say anything about … say your sore throat – the doctor might guess instead and get it wrong, for example if you were limping from stubbing your toe on the way into room the doctor might guess that you’ve broken your leg and put it in a cast!  Owl immediately said – but my throat was hurting only, not my leg.  I said – EXACTLY!

I explained that I need help – to help them.  That I cannot read minds and I need to know why they’re doing things so that I can help them.  I gave examples of WHY one might be grumpy they might be tired, hungry, thirsty, angry, frustrated etc.  I said if they can help me to understand WHY they’re doing something I can help them try to feel better.

This is a recurring issue with Owl.  It’s been noted in school that they’re on the verge of tears over small ‘slights’ or worse, perceived slights.  Owl will not tell us when they are hungry, thirsty, hurt, upset etc.  It’s hard as a parent to ALWAYS be second guessing your child and worrying you’re not getting the full story.  It’s hard as emotionally I think Owl is about 2 – 3 years old, but cognitively they are ahead.  So going back and filling in the emotional gaps will take us longer, it will take Owl more time to feel confident in speaking about and recognising their own feelings.

We have created feelings boxes before with pictures of faces, sad, happy, angry, frustrated, scared, not sure etc., but it’s not been enough to connect the ‘feeling’ with the actual sensations that Owl is going through.

I’ve tried with a book, called All Kinds of Feelings an interactive book.  We’ve looked at this a few times and whilst I think it goes a little way, I’m fairly certain we’re on a long path here.  We’re going to need to engage some additional help (counselling for instance).  With children of trauma, we can’t be their parent and their counsellor. There are many things we can help with,  but some things/needs are beyond even the love and understanding we can give and this is something we have to accept.  Sometimes there comes a point where a village is needed – others to help.  Be it extended family or indeed perhaps (more likely) therapists.

So what we’ve learned is that for now, whilst we explore our possibilities of outside help,  we’ll continue to try to guide Owl through the murky waters commonly called ‘feelings’!