Our neighbors’ new puppy is a Great Dane. She is all paws and big hush-puppy eyes. This 9-week old and this puppy captured the attention of everyone in my building. Except my son.
My daughter, all squeals and happiness, jumped with excitement with the sight of a new pup in the building. The puppy received all of her attention. She snuggled into the puppy’s face, tugged at his ear, and played chase with his big paws and her small hands. My son, who usually interacts the same playful way with dogs, stood in the corner of the main entrance to our building. His chin tucked to his neck and his hands in his pockets. All of his body told me that he wanted nothing to do with the puppy.
“Buddy, why don’t you pet the puppy? I know she will make you smile,” I nudged with gentle words.
My son responded with, “No, Mom. I’m good. Can I go inside now?”
“Yea, of course,” I replied.
I watched my son open the heavy door to our building. He looked at me and a tear trailed down his face. And a big question mark appeared on top of my head. Why is my son refusing to play with this new puppy? Dogs usually bring him peace, increase his confidence, help his to discharge his lightning-bolt energy, and are the always faithful audience when reading aloud.
The question mark stayed with me until my daughter and I walked into our condo unit, and my son immediately said, “Mom, I feel jealous.” Suddenly, my question mark turned into an exclamation point.
For many, jealously is not an emotion that we like to express. We are taught that we should be happy for others – and that we should express excitement when someone is joy-filled with something or someone. We are told that jealously reflects the self. That if we cannot feel happiness or joy for someone else – then our self is not happy or joyful.
Yes, I agree. But, I also want to dig a bit deeper into this.
I’m thrilled that my son identified his feeling. I’m thrilled that he felt no boundaries in telling me his feeling. Why, you may ask? Well, for a child to be able to self-identify what s/he is thinking or feeling, is truly one step closer to developing empathy. For my son to say that he feels jealous – is a beautiful emotion because he is creating the foundation for understanding that if he can feel hurt and joy wrapped together into jealously – then maybe he will understand that others can also experience jealousy. That others also have emotion.
So, by saying, “I feel jealous,” is really not so bad. This is the starting place to understanding the complexity of the human spirit. We are only as good as we allow ourselves to be. And, if by allowing ourselves to feel jealousy will help us to better understand other humans, then I invite more emotions to walk their way into my son’s life.
This may seem commonplace – understanding emotions and being able to read people. It is commonplace for some. For others, especially those with autism spectrum disorder, understanding and recognizing emotions takes a great deal of practice. It is common for a child on the spectrum to misinterpret or totally miss another person’s emotions. Raising Children, a parenting organization in Australia, state
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often find it hard to: recognize facial expressions and the emotions behind them; copy or use emotional expressions; understand and control their own emotions; [and] understand and interpret emotions – they might lack, or seem to lack, empathy with others (Emotional Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, 2017).
Okay, so now what? Here are some things you can try with your child:
- Identify your emotions when you feel them. Say out loud, “I feel happy right now because I’m spending time with you.” Don’t be afraid to share with your child when you’re feeling sad, too. It is okay for your child to know that humans experience many emotions. If you are upset or crying, you can say, “I feel sad right now because _______.”
- Help your child identify their own emotions. When you see they are crying about a lost piece of homework or the moon lamp not working, you can say, “I notice that you might be feeling frustrated because your moon lamp isn’t working.”
- Practice making faces and using body language with your child. Extend your arms wide like a tree and put a smile on your face. Ask your child to guess the emotion you feel. Then, take turns and ask your child to create an emotion for you to guess.
And, as for the dog. I’m actually a bit entangled in joy and sadness because it hurts so good to see a family with a new puppy. It hurts to know this isn’t our life (yet). However, it is a beautiful thing to see feel others’ joy because of an all-paws, big hush-puppy eyes, dog.
Citation and Copyrighted Material :
Emotional development in children with autism spectrum disorder. (2017, January 31). Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/development/social-emotional-development/emotional-development-asd
(Photo) Leaverton, B., & Leaverton, M. (2016, September 26). Everything Great Dane Puppies – Adorable Pics! Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://dogtime.com/puppies/41281-great-dane-puppies#/slide/1