Saturday, September 25, 2010

Life Skills--Feelings Edition

Every Tuesday we have staff meetings. I’ve been working with the nannies and housekeepers through a book called How to Help Your Child Succeed. Because so many of the concepts are new to the women we’ve been going very slow and learning what each idea is before discussing how to implement it in the care of the children.
For example, we spent a month on the topic of Self Esteem. This is not a normal thing here. There is such a strong sense of hierarchy that children are not taught how special they are. They essentially wait for the moment to arrive where they can be bigger and stronger than someone else. Understanding that they can’t be whole and complete until they realize their self-worth, I spent weeks drilling this concept and practicing it with them. They made a lot of progress.

This week the new concept is ‘feelings’. Again, most children are not shown how to express their feelings but are told to just ‘stop crying’. It is one of the things that really irritates me. When a baby is hurt or crying for whatever reason, the fall back phrase all women use (and I could be wrong about this but it is all women I’ve met so far) is ‘stop crying’ or ‘it’s all done’. Whether the pain is still present, the problem still exists or whatever.

When the little, sick one year old brought to us this week we had to put in an IV. I was crooning to the baby and talking with her but I thought she might prefer to hear her grandmother’s more familiar voice. Again, it was the talala (stop crying) over and over and over again. I lost my patience a bit. I said, it’s quite alright for her to cry. She is being jabbed repeatedly in the head with a needle. Not only that, but she has sores in her mouth, her belly is empty and most likely aching from dysentery or worse, she misses her mom who just died four ago. I felt like saying, “Yell away, baby! You deserve it!” I encouraged the grandmother to say other things like, “I’m here. It will be over soon. Grandma loves you”. Everyone in the room looked at me with bemused expressions and the grandmother went back to “talala’ and ‘chapwa’ (it’s finished).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of crying in small children. None of us are, I imagine. But it is the way babies communicate and as they get older it is our responsibility to teach them how to express what they’re feeling using words. A four year old child should not cry because he can’t open a bathroom door. He can be taught to call for help. The way we teach that is by starting young by helping them to understand what they’re feeling and talking about how to get through that problem.

To the one year old I would say, “It hurts, doesn’t it? I’m sorry. It will be over soon. You must be scared too. It’s alright. I’m here. I’ll hold your hand. Jesus will help us make it through.” Even though to a baby, those words are mostly gibberish. They are laying foundations in language and development.

My challenge is working with local staff is getting them to develop into well rounded people who are then able to give to others. They first have to understand and be able to express what they are feeling in order to be able to help teach that same skill to the children in their care. It’s a work in progress.

P.S I taught last week using a few flashcards and had the nannies guess the feelings portrayed by the cards. Problem was, they had trouble with the visual clues because they weren't familiar to them. Does anyone have a link to share with (free) regular emotion cards I can print out? Thanks!


  1. I did some googling and thought maybe these printable feelings cards are something you could check out to see if you can use. Hope it helps!

  2. Pam, I really appreciate your effort. Can you send me the link again? It didn't show up.

  3. I can definitely understand your frustrations with the cultural emotional block. My neighbors in the village were shocked that I knew the names of each of the 45 kids that came to my house every day. That individualisation isn't something they do with children. And the kids loved me for it. (The worst talala moment I saw was at an under 5. The kid was scared of me and the mom's answer, in Bemba, was "stop crying or the white lady will eat you." I wonder why she was scared of me?)

    However, just to play devil's advocate, I also see a bit of why they tell the kids to stop crying. By the age of 9 in the village, those kids would be expected to take care of adult chores and other kids. No one has time to cry or dwell on emotions, as they have to work so hard for survival. When a mother loses a child (or husband, etc), she has 3 days to grieve. She rolls on the ground and wails and screams and cries. Then, on day 4, the crying is over and she is back to work. There is no time to waste on emotions.

    Joshua is often so confused by his overly emotional American wife. I cry when I read a good book, watch a movie, think of a sad memory, etc. I am very emotional and he is just not used to women being like this, even after 4 years with me. So, don't get too frustrated if the nannies don't get it right away.

  4. How odd that that is their response. It must be tough trying to un-do decades of repeated patterns.



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