Learning How to Navigate Feelings by Tom Percival
Okay! So… can we all just agree on something here?
Well, actually—no the sad truth is that we probably can’t. Sometimes it feels like all we can do is disagree with each other. Disagreeing is just one of those things that human beings are especially good at, and that’s a good thing. If we weren’t so good at disagreeing we’d never have had such great historical highlights as the Battle of Hastings, The War of the Roses, or the Thirty Years War. Oh, wait… it looks like all this disagreeing is actually destructive and BAD—who’d have thought it?
Still, if there was one thing that we could all agree on, irrespective of personal belief systems, political opinions or your feelings on the validity of a peanut butter and jam* sandwich, a good contender would be that nobody likes having their feelings hurt. And to my mind, the best way to avoid having our feelings hurt, or inadvertently hurting someone else’s feelings is to take steps to understand how and why we feel the way we do.
Essentially, this is why I’m creating my picture books. You’re never too young to start understanding your own feelings, or those of the people around you. After all, the emotional lives of children are just as rich and complex as those of adults. Take the example of a child who’s had an argument with their best friend—something you often hear parents saying is,
‘Oh it’s just a row, they’ll be best friends again by next week.’
But to my mind, that undermines children’s feelings and suggests that their emotions are somehow lesser than adults, when arguably, children’s emotions are stronger, or certainly rawer. After all, there’s a good chance that the emotions they’re feeling are either brand new, or as yet unexplored. As we all know, the first time that you have to cope with something is always the most challenging. Once you’ve experienced something a number of times you begin to build a strategy to help you deal with it.
So that potential break down of a friendship with a child’s best friend should be treated with as much care as you would treat someone having problems with their marriage. Yes, the stakes aren’t as high, but for the child, it could be the first time that they’ve ever felt rejection, or betrayal or even guilt. And if we don’t use these opportunities to try to teach our children about their emotional responses to different situations, then the chances are that they might never learn to appropriately express their emotions. Those emotionally illiterate children then grown into adults who lack the ability to understand, or appropriately express their emotions and we get a world full of anger, very little empathy and a whole bunch of those disagreements that we’re all so good at having.
Ruby Finds A Worry is my most recent picture book to be published in the US and focuses on anxiety and worry. I’ve deliberately not specified what the main character, Ruby is upset about as that isn’t really relevant to the message that I’m communicating. What is important is that she goes from being a happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic young girl to someone quiet and withdrawn because of a worry that she internalises and tries to hide. Of course, the best thing to do with any emotional challenge is to try to understand it and deal with it, but even as an adult this can be difficult. So I feel that children especially need encouragement and simple, clear guidance on how to cope with feelings of worry and anxiety. I won’t give away any spoilers about how exactly Ruby learns to cope with her feelings on worry in the book, but I WILL say that it involves empathy and communication.
In all my books I aim to keep the story and illustrations light and playful, whilst the underlying message is serious. This means that Ruby Finds a Worry, Perfectly Norman and my upcoming book Ravi’s Roar would be fun to read for all children, regardless of whether they’re experiencing any negative emotions or not. After all, if a child can put themselves in the position of someone who feels an upsetting emotion then they have a better chance of being able to help their friend work their way through that problem. Even a simple question like,
can be a huge relief to someone who has a worry weighing them down. And if any readers ARE feeling bad and can relate to the plight of the main character in any of my books, then they will find simple, practical advice on how best to approach difficult questions of personal identity and self expression, anxiety or anger issues.
I’m incredibly proud of The Big Bright Feelings books as a whole and I can’t wait for Ruby to set off on her adventure across America—happy reading!
* Or Jelly, please go easy on me—I’m from the UK.
Tom Percival is the author and illustrator of the picture books Perfectly Norman, Herman’s Letter, Herman’s Vacation, and Bubble Trouble and the author of Goat’s Coat. He writes and illustrates picture books in his native United Kingdom, where he lives in a town called Stroud with his family. www.tom-percival.com