Visiting Feelings (by Lauren Rubenstein, JD, PsyD) is my favorite book for introducing children to the idea of being curious and accepting about feelings, rather than labeling them as “good” or “bad.” Emotional judgment leads to children being afraid of their feelings and trying to push them away, rather than learning how to connect to their experience deeply enough to share how they feel, as necessary, and ask for or find what they need.
“Treat your feelings like friends, talking to you!”
According to Dr. Rubenstein’s website, the book was inspired by a Rumi poem:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Welcome and entertain them all!
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
This book delivers that metaphor in a way that is accessible for children: it imagines and illustrates feelings to be like guests to their home: sometimes they show up quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes they stomp in very loud, sometimes very quietly, sometimes they are big and heavy, sometimes they are little and light…
In line with the principles of mindfulness, the book illustrates how all feelings are valid and have a reason they are there — something to teach or tell us that we need — and they all need love and acceptance. I also see this as the kid-version of Pema Chödrön’s “you are the sky… everything else is just the weather.” All of these ideas help us connect to that which is constant inside of us
This metaphor lends well to other extensions:
- Identification of feeling outside of self: Our feelings don’t come to take over or change our house. Sadness doesn’t get to say “PAINT IT ALLLLLLLLL BLUE … and maybe the neighbors, too! BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT I AM!!”. We’re still in charge of that, our house is still ours — the feeling has just come to tell us something.
- Non-judgement and self-compassion: If a friend showed up at our door feeling sad or angry, would we just tell them to stop feeling that way? No, we would ask them what’s wrong and give them LOVE.
Recently, a mindfulness student and I wanted to make some art to represent her experience of the concepts in the book. Together we brainstormed ways that she could illustrate each feeling and have a house “visit” them.
First we illustrated a house, laminated it, and cut it out. Then we began making the artistic representation of each feeling, and put each in a sheet protector. She conceptualized all the illustrations and she chose the colors and images that surrounded each feeling (she had recently watched Inside-Out, so we started in on the 5 Core Feelings). I am so impressed with her work!
When we talk about that feeling visiting, we just slide the house right into that sheet protector. This can be a great opportunity to talk about how the house stays the same no matter what surrounds it: a calm, loving place.
Then we made some “helpers” who could be invited to the house to help out certain feelings. These can be loving people, visualizations, or mindfulness practices.
(that helper with “anger” is Anger walking slowly in Steps and Stones: An Anh’s Anger Story, if you happen to know about Anger)
Lastly, we made “presents” for the feelings — love, listening, breathe, movement, and other ideas and qualities of presence that we might offer our friends who need help and support with their feelings (you can download a PDF of the “presents” template, to illustrate, here).
This project was not only a helpful tool to extend the book’s message and bring us deeper into discussion of her personal experience, it’s also a helpful tool in the long run to help prepare for different scenarios when these feelings come up.