Positive Socialization of Emotions: Katie and The Balloon: Version Two
Katie's Mother Supports and Teaches Healthy Relationship to Feelings
In the previous Essay on Healthy Socialized Adult Emotionality (Go To) it was indicated that a following presentation would show some of the processes that are involved in the socialization of emotion. This essay is intended to make good on that commitment. It will present some of the ways that the basic biological emotional tendencies of children can be nurtured and socialized in healthy ways that support the development of well socialized and well functioning adult emotionality. Another essay will follow which will indicate some of the ways that children can be socialized in unhealthy ways that lead to emotional dysfunction and imbalance and which often contribute to mental health problems in Adults.
The previous Essay depicting Emotional Flow (Go To) followed 2 year old Katie on her emotional adventures with a balloon in the Zoo. In the introduction to that vignette I indicated that Katie’s mother’s role in Katie’s drama would be minimized in that version of the story. This was done to optimize the description of Katie’s emotional flow. Katie’s mother was included only in her role as frustrating parent, because this was required to allow the story to most naturally highlight all of the four basic emotions (Anger, Sadness, Fear and Excitement).
Katie and the Balloon: Version II
Two year old Katie and her mother are walking through the zoo. It is a bright sunny day, spring, a soft gentle wind is blowing, and all around there are bushes and trees, just beginning to show their new leaves—little spots of soft green here and there. Katie walks along, mostly relaxed, open, no high expectations—her first time at the zoo. She is alert, visually searching, staying within safety range of her mother in a new place. They haven’t yet come to the animals.
Suddenly, just up ahead on the wide walkway, something interesting comes into view. A man with a blue shirt, brown pants and a gray hat is standing at the edge of the walkway. Above his head, brilliantly colored large circular bubbles float in the air and dance gently in the breeze.
Katie KNOWS. “Balloon”, she squeals. “I want balloon” . Her whole being and body stretches out and twinkles toward the man with his lovely dancing bouquet of smooth round flowers. There is energy in her steps, direction, focus, dancing, skipping energy even though she is too young to skip. She is ahead of her mother, striving toward the object of desire, an arm up reaching for string, face smiling, focused, hungry anticipation. EXCITEMEN
Mother, reaches in her purse, $3 to the balloon man, Katie points to a big blue one. The string is placed in her hand and she and the balloon dance down the path, moving up and down, side to side. Katie has her head up, watching this lovely, lively blue balloon that is hers and in her power. Her face is now mobile, smiling, relaxed more than focused, enjoying, glorying in this thing possessed, moving with her, belonging to her.
Mommy (2): “You sure are having a good time with that Balloon, Katie. You’re dancing just like the balloon. I love to see you having such a good time. You look really excited.”
Katie doesn’t see and wouldn’t understand if she did, the Hawthorne tree ahead, leaning over the path with so-far only teeny buds clinging to its slender branches amid the long sharp thorns. Katie dances under tree, balloon follows, hits a branch and another, interesting to child—then, BOOM! (lurch, Whoosh).
Katie hears BOOM!, startles, alerts, tenses, freezes for an instant, then, turns to mother, runs to her side and clings. Who made that noise, what danger lurks, is the world safe? Head hiding in skirt at mother’s thigh. FEAR
Mommy (3). “Oh Katie. What a loud Noise. I can see that you’re scared. You probably don’t even know what happened. You’re safe. Nothing’s going to hurt you. The balloon, popped and it made a loud noise. And it scared you. You thought something might be about to hurt you. Don’t worry, you’re fine.”
Nothing happens, there is no attack, head turns from skirt, child peeps out. No monster, no darkness, still sunshine, a bird chirps, breeze still gentle. Fear subsides, more visual searching.
Then discovery: disaster for balloon. Limp, wrinkled deflated rubber, dangling string, lying unmoving on path, This no object of delight.
Katie looks around. Where is Blue Balloon, what is mine, what goes with me? She walks, but franticly searching, looking, seeking, her fingers open and close, wanting the balloon to be there. Gone, no more, can’t find. Face clouds over, recognition, Balloon is this broken, dead thing, lying on the ground, can dance no longer.
Tears come, arms empty, energy low, only weeping. Loss and SADNESS fill the universe, the hole in the balloon creates hole in Katie’s existence, something full is now empty, there is no future, only the wanting that which was beautiful and exciting and full of energy. The
child can’t see the sun or budding trees and flowers, only what is not there and cannot be found. The face is an open mouth, sounds of mourning “wah, wah, aaaahh.” Heaving breast, sobs from belly, shoulders wracked with pain, shaking, tears spilling energy onto the path.
Mom (4): “Oh, Honey. Your balloon popped. See it hit one of those sharp thorns on the tree and it went ‘boom”. And now it’s all gone. I can see how sad you are. You really like that balloon and now it’s gone and you’re feeling so sad. I can understand why you’re crying. It’s hard to lose something you like. The tears will help you say goodbye to the balloon. Say, ‘Goodbye Balloon. You were beautiful. I miss you.’”
Balloon man is a moving store. He has begun to follow Katie and her mother up the walkway. As Katie’s mourning subsides a little, her eyes see the dancing balls come into view. Within moments, eyes open, tears begin to dry in the gentle wind, arm lifts with renewed energy, reaching, pointing to the magnetic yellows and blues and reds, bobbing like inviting baits, asking to be freed from their bondage in the swarm and taken for a dance. “Mommy, Mommy, Balloon! Want Balloon. Want Balloon”. EXCITMENT and wanting.
Mommy(5): “Katie, I can see how much you are wanting another balloon. You’re all excited again. I know you’d like to have another one. You were so sad when your other balloon popped. I can’t buy you another one today.”
Katie: “Want Balloon. Want nother balloon.”
Mommy (6): “No Honey, you can’t have another one today. I know you want one and I’d like to get it for you. But they cost too much money. Maybe next time we come to the zoo, you can get another one.”
“Balloon, Balloon. I Want Balloon.”, Intensity, rising color, reaching hand toward string, body arching up toward dancing colored apples, all hunger, need to have, possess, restore, fill emptiness. Face begins to tense, more pleading, rising energy, “Balloon. I Want Balloon.”
Mom (7): I know you want another balloon. And the answer is “NO”.
“Yes! YES!”. Hand now pulls at mommy’s. Dragging by force toward Balloons and man who holds the strings. Goal directed, get what I want, do this mommy. .
Mommy is a rock, immoveable (8): “No, Honey, no more balloons today.”
Katie’s face changes, lips curl, teeth come into view, some clinching of jaws, eyes narrow. ANGRY tears this time.
Face red, arms thrash, feet stamp, Katie throws whole self down upon the path. Mouth wide open, howl, shriek, feet kick toward mommy, arms grabbing, punching the air, back tense and arched, energy thrown at the universe, tear down the barrier, get me what I want, now!
Mommy (9): “I’m sorry Katie. No, not today.”
Katie: “Bad Mommy. Bad Mommy. I want Balloon!”
Mommy (10): I can see how angry you are. You want a balloon and I am saying no. You’re mad at me. I understand that and its alright. Everyone gets mad when they don’t get what they want. I know you don’t like it when I say ‘no’. And It’s alright for you to feel angry.
More Kicking, screaming, thrashing on ground, shrieking, kicking toward mommy who stays out of reach of feet.
Mommy (11): I can see how mad you are. You’d like to kick me to show me how angry you are. And maybe you think that I would give you the balloon if you hurt me. It’s alright for you to be angry. I understand that you don’t like me right now and you would like to hurt me. I am not going to let you hurt me. And you can be as mad as you need to be.
An eternity of a minute goes by. Energy ebbing, something forced about the wailing now, doesn’t sound so urgent, not so real, deflating like the balloon, but more slowly, a limpness coming, the anger not so full.
Mommy (12): Moves, closer stands by. Attentive. Present. Supportive.
Another minute. Receding, the eye lids soften, and start to widen, tears are on the checks still, but eyes begin to see again. Body spent, relaxes some, back more mobile, arms and legs on walkway, not much movement, energy spent, resolution phase.
Suddenly, above her head, a small point of energy and movement. Katie’s eyes are captured, begin to focus. A small spot of color, dancing on the still gentle breeze. A teeny balloon? No. It is not
Katie is dancing again, now, beneath an early spring butterfly. Face smiling, open, some desire, but satisfied to dance in rhythm with this new thing. No strings, but inspiring, a companion to renewed EXCITEMENT.
Mommy (13): “Isn’t that Butterfly beautiful, Katie. I can see that you are feeling better. It looks like you’re Excited again. Butterflies are wonderful. They make me feel like I wish I could fly, too. You look like you are pretending to move, just like the butterfly.”
A minute or so later.
Mommy (14): “Are you ready to go see the animals, Katie.”
Katie shakes her head, yes. They start to stroll along the path toward the sound of Monkey’s chattering.
Mommy (15): You sure were angry at me, when I told you that you couldn’t have a balloon.
I wanted Balloon, Mommy.
Mommy (16): I know honey. I can understand that you were angry when I said no. It’s alright that you wanted to hit me, but it isn’t right to hit other people. I’m not going to let you hit me.
It may be that the narrative is completely understandable without further elaboration. None-the-less, assuming that the socialization and support that is being illustrated is not obvious in all details to everyone, I am going to give a brief comment on each of Mommy’s actions and words as they relate to the six skills (Go To) that adults who are emotionally well socialized need to have developed. If this detailed analysis is more than is needed, I assume that the reader will skip it. In any case, I do want to offer a couple of more general comments before proceeding to that analysis.
Remember this is a fictional account and it is idealized. In the narrative, Mommy is responding to every major aspect of her daughter’s unfolding emotional experience with the balloon. In fact, no one is an ideal parent at every moment and at every opportunity. Furthermore, the narrative may include parental responses which are positive and could be useful, but in the context they might not be in the best interests of furthering this particular child’s development at this particular time.
For example, words that Mommy speaks toward the end of this emotional episode (Mommy 15 and 16) might be too far advanced for Katie’s level of cognitive development (depending on whether she is a bright getting-close-to-three-year-old or an average only-just-turned-two-year-old).
Parents often appropriately make presentations that are slightly beyond their children’s current developmental level because it helps the child to stretch toward the next attainment and the parent knows that these are
lessons that will needed to be repeated again and again after an introduction that may go over the head of the child entirely. Thus, the parent will be patient and not get frustrated (or anger) because the child didn’t take in what was taught.
Many parents might question the value of bringing up the event again by talking about it, when Katie appears to have forgotten about the balloon. They might argue that distracting a
child from an upsetting event is often the goal and if it happens naturally as in this case, it suggests that the child is ready to move on. Why “upset” her again by reminding her of the painful situation?
I can be supportive of the parent who chooses not to make an intervention at a given moment because he or she thinks that it is not in the best interests of the child to be brought back into the emotionally aroused state. I can also be supportive of the parent who chooses not to make an intervention at a given moment because she or he is too emotionally depleted her or himself at the moment to go through another round of emotional turmoil.
I also suggest that learning to “process” emotions, after the point where emotional energy is very high, is an important part of emotional socialization and health. The Moment when we are “upset” (angry, fearful or sad or excited) may not be a good time to talk about our feelings and learn what we need to learn from t
I propose that if the discussion brings up the emotion again, with high intensity, this suggests that emotional resolution was not attained during the first go-round and there is emotional unfinished business that needs attention. One of the foundations of our emotional mental health is learning to finish unfinished business as soon as we can (an additional skill (Go To) needed for healthy adult socialized emotionality listed in the essay on that topic and not leave it to accumulate and to add to a general store of uncompleted, unprocessed, unresolved feelings. If Katie really is “upset” (sad angry or fearful) in a renewed discussion about the popped balloon, then she needs an opportunity to attain fuller resolution.
It is possible of course, that the issue that is contributing to this renewed upset is not the popped balloon itself-but rather the power relationship between Katie and her mother. This is a major issue that emerges for all two year olds in some form and it pops up in relation to popped balloons and many other events. That is, mother’s firm and consistent “No” in relation to Katie’s want and insistent demand, may be why Katie becomes “upset” when reminded of the event. It may be “upsetting”, that is evocative of strong emotions over and over again. T parent’s task is to keep supporting the child’s resolution of the problem, even though it takes a long time, seems repetitious and requires a great deal of patience, faith and restraint on the part of the parent.
Now I will go on to relate Mommy’s words and acts in relation to Katie’s emotions depicted in the narrative in terms of the support and healthy socialization processes. The Arabic numbers refer to the Number of Mommy’s utterance; small letters refer to detail of her statements; roman numerals refer to the socialized emotional skills elaborated in the previous Essay. Mommy makes some statements that are not categorized here.
Mommy (1): “You really want a balloon, don’t you Katie (a). You’re so Exited (b). I can see why (c). They look like flowers dancing in the wind”
Analysis: (a) Verbalizing child’s inner experience (not feeling). (b) Labeling Child’s Feeling (I & II). (c) Validating child’s feeling (III).
Mommy (2): “You sure are having a good time with that Balloon, Katie (a). You’re dancing just like the balloon (b). I love to see you having such a good time (c). You look really excited (d).”
(a) Mirroring. (b) Mirroring. (c) Acceptance and valuing of feelings (III)
(d) Labeling (II).
Mommy (3). “Oh Katie. What a loud Noise. (a) I can see that you’re scared. You probably don’t even know what happened. You’re safe (b). Nothing’s going to hurt you (c). The balloon, popped and it made a loud noise (d). And it scared you (e). You thought some- thing might be about to hurt you (f). Don’t worry, you’re fine. (g) ”
(a) Awareness and Labeling of Feeling (I and II). (b) Reassurance. (c) Reassurance (d) cognitive teaching about the world, cause and effect.
(e) Labeling of Feeling (2) (f) relating feeling to stimulus (g) Reassurance
Mommy (4): “Oh, Honey. Your balloon popped (a). See it hit one of those sharp thorns on the tree and it went ‘boom” (b). And now it’s all gone (c). I can see how sad you are (d). You really like that balloon and now it’s gone and you’re feeling so sad (e). I can understand why you’re crying (f). It’s hard to lose something you like (g). The tears will help you say goodbye to the balloon (h). Say, ‘Goodbye Balloon. You were beautiful. I miss you. (i)’
(a)(b) (c) Cognitive Teaching. (d) Labeling Emotion (II) (e) Labeling Emotion and Validating and Accepting it (II & III). (f.) Validating Feeling and Appropriate response (III & V). (g) Legitimizing Feeling ((III)
(h) teaching Appropriate Discharge of Energy (V) (i) Keeping Current in resolution of feelings (VI)
Mommy(5): “Katie, I can see how much you are wanting another balloon (a). You’re all excited again (b). I know you’d like to have another one (c). You were so sad when your other balloon popped (d). I can’t buy you another one today (e).”
(a) Mirroring. (b) Labeling Feeling (II). (c) Mirroring (d) Labeling Feelings, Relating to Stimulus (II & III) (e) Setting Limits.
Mommy (6): “No Honey, you can’t have another one today (a). I know you want one and I’d like to get it for you (b). But they cost too much money (c). Maybe next time we come to the zoo, you can get another one. (d)”
a) Consistency of Limit. (b) Mirroring and Legitimizing Feeling (III). (c) Cognitive Teaching, Reasoning, Explanation of Limit
(d) Teaching delay of gratification, future orientation.
Mom (7): I know you want another balloon (a). And the answer is “NO” (b).
(a) Acceptance of Feeling (III) (b) Consistency of Limit.
Mommy is a rock, immoveable (8): “No, Honey, no more balloons today. (a)”
(a) consistently holding to Limit, modeling emotional restraint.
Mommy (9): “I’m sorry Katie. No, not today (a).”
(a) Firmness of limits, with emotional restraint.
. Mommy (10): I can see how angry you are (a). You want a balloon and I am saying no (b). You’re mad at me (c). I understand that and its alright (d). Everyone gets mad when they don’t get what they want (e). I know you don’t like it when I say ‘no’ (f). And It’s alright for you to feel angry (g).
(a) Labeling Emotion (b-g) Legitimizing and Accepting of feeling.
Mommy (11): I can see how mad you are (a). You’d like to kick me to show me how angry you are (b). And maybe you think that I would give you the balloon if you hurt me (c). It’s alright for you to be angry (d). I understand that you don’t like me right now and you would like to hurt me (e). I am not going to let you hurt me (f). And you can be as mad as you need to be (g).
(a) Labeling of Emotion (II) (b) Mirroring, Labeling Emotional Response Impulse (II) (c) Cognitive Teaching (d) Labeling and Accepting of Feelings (II & III) (e) Mirroring and Acceptance (f) Socializing Acceptable Emotional Expression (V) (g) Accepting Feelings (III)
Mommy (12): Moves, closer stands by. Attentive. Present. Supportive (a) shows acceptance of feelings by staying present, not rejecting, (III)
Mommy (13): “Isn’t that Butterfly beautiful, Katie (a). I can see that you are feeling better (b). It looks like you’re Excited again (c). Butterflies are wonderful (d). They make me feel like I wish I could fly, too (e). You look like you are pretending to move, just like the butterfly. (f)”
(a) cognitive teaching (b) mirroring inner states (c ) Labeling Feelings (II)
(d) Emotional expressivity through language (e) empathy (f) mirroring
Mommy (14): “Are you ready to go see the animals, Katie. (a)”
(a) mirroring, acceptance of feelings (III)
Mommy (15): You sure were angry at me, when I told you you couldn’t have a balloon (a).
(a) Labeling of Feelings, Validating Feelings (II & III) Inviting Processing to keep current (VI)
. Mommy (16): I know honey (a). I can understand that you were angry when I said “no” (b). It’s alright that you wanted to hit me, but it isn’t right to hit other people (c). I’m not going to let you hit me (d). And I don’t want you hitting anyone else (e). It’s better to tell people what we feel (f). You can always say, “Mommy I’m mad at you (g).”
(a & b) Validating Feelings and Accepting them (III) (c-g) Teaching acceptable ways of expressing emotions (V)
The next Essay in this series will use Katie’s encounter with the balloon to depict poor parental support and socializing of emotion.