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Too Sensitive or Analytical: How We Make Decisions

Coaching Your Feeling Child
Communicating with feeling kids requires a very different approach from the one that thinking kids need. In order to keep them working with you and to help them understand their emotions, feeling kids need these types of responses.

1. Validate Their Feelings
Eleven-year-old Jason was sitting all alone in his room when I walked in. I knew there had been a conflict with his friends, so I asked him what had happened. When he told me, I temporarily forgot everything I've ever known about individual differences and totally discounted his feelings by remarking, "Oh, Jason, those are your friends. I'm sure they didn't mean to hurt your feelings. You need to go and tell them they hurt your feelings so that they won't do it again." Fortunately Jason was a very forgiving child. He didn't blow up on me. Instead he lamented "I know, Mary, everyone always tells me that I need to go and talk with them. But right now I'm feeling so sad, would it be all right just to be miserable for a while?"

What Jason taught me at that moment was that feeling kids need to climb into those emotions, wrap them around, and thrash in them before they're ready to let them go. If you're a factual person, you may feel their response is an overreaction or that they are being too sensitive and emotional. But telling them to ignore their feeling or stop feeling that way doesn't work. They have to experience that disappointment and frustration before they are ready to problem solve with you or listen to your advice. When you respond empathetically, they'll work with you. If you try to talk them out of their feelings, their intensity will sky-rocket.

In order to stay connected, you might say something that invites your child to share with you how she is feeling, like, "I'm so sorry that happened." Or ask questions like, "Is it upsetting you that someone's feelings were hurt?" "Did that hurt your feelings?" "Would you like a hug?" Or "Is the fighting bothering you?" As you work with her, step into her emotion to connect and explore those feelings with her. Avoid minimizing or discounting the emotion, or you'll miss its importance and depth. Hold your advice for later. Remember, if your child is an introvert, you'll have to give her time for reflection before she'll be ready to talk with you.

Irene found this information very helpful. Her three-year-old son had been a terror to get dressed. "He can't make up his mind," she complained. Since she was a factual person, initially she had tried logic as she worked with him. "I told him," she said, "'Either you choose, or Mommy will choose.'" When he couldn't make a choice, she'd say, "Okay, Mommy will make it for you." He'd end up a screaming heap on the floor. "Now I realize he's a real feeling kid. So the other morning, instead of being my rational self, I stopped and said to him, 'It's frustrating when you can't make a decision.' He listened and stopped fussing."

If you are an introvert or a more factual person yourself, and your feeling child's venting is exhausting you, you can let her know your limits and encourage her to find other listeners besides you. Remember, too, that not every emotion needs a solution; it may simply need to be expressed.

According to Myers and Briggs, about 40 percent of males and 60 percent of females are feelers. If you have a feeling son, it's important to recognize his preference. He's dealing not only with his strong emotions, but also with societal stereotypes of what it means to be "a guy."

2. Find Solutions That "Feel" Right for Everyone Involved
Children who prefer to sort through the feelings first are very aware of the body language and nonverbal communication of others. They are so observant and perceptive that they'll notice the slightest expression or movement. For example, your son may tell you his teacher has "yelling" eyes. When you look closely, you'll realize she does! Even if your child is not the child being yelled at in class, he may be the one who is suffering from headaches and stomachaches. The conflict in the classroom upsets him.

Because they are so aware of emotions, feeling children strongly consider the impact of their decisions on other people. At school or on the playground, they're the children who give up the toy rather than fight for it. They are the children who change the rules to ensure that everyone can stay in the game or will get a turn, which infuriates their more factual counterparts and leads to accusations that they're cheating. They may also get into trouble for "fudging" the facts or using lots of words if they feel the truth will upset you. That's what happened to Kate's daughter.

"She's incredibly sensitive," Kate told us. "Courtney doesn't want to hurt my feelings. Last year she wanted to quit piano, but she couldn't bear to tell me. So she wrote me a note that said, 'I really want to quit. I hate it. I'm crying as I write this note, but if you really want me to continue, I will.'"

I suspect Bobby McFerrin is a feeler, too. When he first started con ducting the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, he admitted in an interview that he found the task very difficult. "I could sing for them the way I wanted them to sound," he said, "but there were times I actually needed to tell them things. I sought the counsel of one of the members. She told me, 'Go ahead and tell us what you want. We're used to being told what to do.' He was amazed. 'You mean,' he remarked, 'that I can just say I want it this way and I don't have to worry that the second chair trumpet player won't like me?'"

How decisions affect others is very important to the feeling individual. That's why it's essential that as you problem solve with them you take the time to look at each possible solution and make sure it feels right for everyone involved. Kate found this to be true with her daughter Christine.

Christine's classmates complained about her sloppy work habits. She was keeping too many things on their shared work table, they said. Christine told them she understood and would try to work on it. "They hurt my feelings," she told her mother. "I was so sad." Her factual mom brainstormed options with her. Christine rejected each potential solution because they didn't "feel right." Suddenly she announced "I have a pencil holder that is broken. I could throw it away. That would give people more space. I think it's all right to leave my water bottle there – everyone else does. And we could try a rule that everyone has two things on the table." She stopped, looked at her mom, and inquired, "Mom, it doesn't hurt your feelings if I don't use your solutions, does it?" Her mother reassured her that it was fine. Christine's eyes lit up as she exclaimed, "I think we can work this out so everyone will be happy!"

What's most important to kids using their feeling preference is that solutions feel right and make other people happy even if those solutions don't always seem logical to the more factual types.


From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.

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