THEMES IN 'Ted, the Sea and Me'
FEELINGS CAN BE UNPREDICTABLE
"Why when I’m having such fun,
Does the sea sometimes move away?
Why does it leave me and scatter the shells?
When I’ve just begun to play?
Why when I lay out my towel
And I settle down to eat
Does the water move ever closer?
Cheekily tickling my feet?".
Rather like the sea, feelings have a habit of creeping up on us and catching us by surprise. Sometimes, these feelings are more challenging to manage, because we weren’t prepared for them. Sometimes, the shock of feeling a certain way, becomes the source of our anxiety, rather than the feeling/experience itself.
Being prepared for change, helps us to feel safe. However, like the waves, emotions don’t wait. Changes to how we feel can be sudden or unexpected, which can leave us feeling ‘all at sea’.
The unexpected emotions can trigger the stress response (fight, flight or freeze) which can feel uncomfortable and scary. It’s very tempting to go into ‘fix it’ mode in our attempts to feel better. However, as this well-known quote wisely points out.
‘We cannot change the waves, but we can choose which ones to surf’.
This couldn’t be more appropriate when it comes to helping children navigate their more complex/challenging feelings and emotions. While, as parents/teachers, we naturally want our children to feel more regulated when they are feeling dysregulated, it is important that these feelings are supported in such a way that we show acceptance of where they are.
‘Emotion regulation isn’t about calming down, or feeling better.
It begins with accepting where you are’.
THE BRAIN AND BODY CONNECTION
"When you meet your different seas,
Greet them and wave, ‘Hello’
Notice the way they move you,
From your head to the tips of your toes".
One of the clues children give when they may be struggling emotionally, is through their physical symptoms. For example, a person who is feeling anxious may experience digestive issues, acid reflux and tension headaches.
Research has revealed that the mind-gut connection is not just metaphorical and phrases such as ‘gut feeling’ and ‘butterflies in my stomach’ are, in fact, very relevant.
Some scientists have nicknamed the gut as the ‘second brain’, because we now recognise, that our emotions can be influenced by the nerves in our gut. Sometimes, we will notice these physical symptoms, before we experience the psychological signs. So, developing this body awareness is fundamental, and is something that can begin very early on.
The first step that we need to take in supporting young people, is suggesting activities, such as yoga and meditation, which will enable them to begin to “know” and “listen” to their bodies, thereby developing and strengthening their awareness.
In ‘Ted, the Sea and Me’, I refer to this as;
‘Notice the way that they move you,
From your head to the tips of your toes’.
Pages 24- 25 in the book, refers to a well-known meditation tool, called the ‘body scan’, where children are encouraged to ‘check in’ physically, by tracking the feelings in their body from their head to their toes. I have used this method in a range of creative ways for example, encouraging a child to imagine a light moving from the top of their head, all the way down their body, while supporting them to notice any areas of tension.
How often do we stop to check in and notice how we feel physically?
Helping children to be ‘curious, like the crab’, about how they and others may feel, fosters more
effective emotion regulation.
“Thoughts are not always facts. Instead of being reactive to them, notice what is happening inside”.
PERMISSION TO FEEL
“It’s time for us to go, Ted,
And wave goodbye to the sea.
For the waves belong to everyone,
But my feelings are part of ME”
The way in which we all experience our feelings is precious, unique and valuable. One child's excitement, may be another child's calm. We not only experience and feel these feelings differently, we also express them differently, too. One child may feel overwhelmed by their anxiety, whilst another may feel overwhelmed by their excitement. Emotions are complex, and sometimes we need to dive a little deeper, to learn more about what's going on under the surface. Feelings are certainly not linear and our true feelings are not always as they appear. Feelings don’t ‘happen to you’, but are part of who you are. The analogy of the sea is a wonderful way to explore the many facets of feelings and emotions, whilst acknowledging their uniqueness. The final page of the book, emphasises the importance of respecting children’s feelings. It acknowledges that, aside from the different analogies we can use to help us learn about emotions, ultimately, feelings are personal to you.
CO-REGULATION IS KEY
Effective emotion regulation relies on the child experiencing good co-regulation. By this we mean that emotion regulation is a joint process of learning. If a child experiences a very turbulent upbringing, and feels unsafe to convey their feelings, this will have a significant impact on their ability to express how they feel as they grow up.
In my story, Ted the turtle, represents the safe and nurturing voice, which helps to guide Tilly on her journey at sea. When times are challenging, Ted remains calm and encourages Tilly to observe and notice her feelings and how she senses these in her body. Ted physically ‘holds’ Tilly throughout her journey at sea. In a similar way, children need to feel, that those supporting them can provide a metaphorical “holding space” when they are expressing how they feel.
My ‘WAVES’ acronym, is a good place to start when we are supporting children with their emotions.