Helping your teen identify their feelings

Written by Melanie Domen
Published on September 27, 2022

Cotton Candy is what I call her. She is full of sweetness, marvel, and loves big crowds. Her role, she feels, is to bring joy to all who are in her presence. Her life is filled with the next most fun thing after the other and she does not slow down. At all.

Did you know that cotton candy is the reaction to sugar when it reaches its boiling point? Since life is not always “fun,” my girl Cotton Candy reacts to life in a similar way when she reaches her boiling point. She will dodge a confrontational conversation with a wit that would out laugh Robin Williams. She will distract herself to utter exhaustion to keep from having to “feel” the hard feelings that straight up teenage life cannot avoid.

There once came a time in her life when even her best efforts could not spin about the sweet sugary reaction she had grown accustomed to creating. It was the unfair, devastating, too soon loss of her most favorite teacher. Thanks a lot, Covid. For two years in middle school, she was a choir teacher by title, but in real terms, she was Cotton Candy’s life line in a suffocating world of middle school drama and insecurities. She spoke to her soul through snarky jokes and a dry sense of humor while also somehow making every student feel valued, as if they were her favorite in the class. She was sometimes the only bright spot in my girl’s day.  

It was a battle with Covid, ventilators, ECMO machines and texts from the hospital from her teacher asking Cotton Candy to please love the new kids well and help the substitute manage the stinkers in the class.  

Facing the hard feelings

When we received the news that she had passed, Cotton Candy refused to feel the hard feelings. She refused to attend the funeral and refused to even talk about this teacher, this life line who played such a vital role in her life.  Eighth grade went down in flames consisting of hating to go to school every day and a refusal to face the feelings. She was quiet and could not find a way to wit or distract herself out of it. The cotton candy generator was out of commission. Broken.

Summer came and provided a great opportunity for sunshine, distraction, soul sister friendships and church camp that restored my girl’s soul. 

The start of a new year in high school brought her much joy in new experiences, opportunities and the gift of not ever having to go into the choir room again where so many of the memories remained. Cotton Candy was back generating joy once again.

A one-word prayer

Then, she grew quiet again. I knew something was up when she spent an entire day rearranging the furniture in her bedroom and organizing her closet by color. I walked in and asked her what was going on, probing her heart with all of my usual therapeutic questions that never worked in the past. I helped her move her furniture around and left defeated, unable to penetrate her heart.

I remembered the verse, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives to all generously” (James 1:5). In fact, of all of the tools that I teach on parenting, this is probably one of the most powerful. It’s the breath prayer of “help” when I get stuck and do not know what to do. It is a simple one word prayer that is packed with more power than ten thousand parenting books or podcasts. I went into the other room and prayed, “Lord, please help!” I then remembered a conversation I had with a friend who was sharing that her feelings were like colors. Sometimes her feelings all mixed together and they were just brown.

Identifying our feelings

Light bulb! I grabbed a bucket of markers and paper and almost skipped into my daughter’s room. She was standing on a makeshift ladder,  straddling the clothing rod in her closet when I exclaimed, “I have an experiment I want to do with you!” She screamed bloody murder, almost fell, and told me I was not allowed in her room again without knocking first.  After the initial shock, we had a great laugh and that was a beautiful, God-given moment to open her heart up to the miracle that was about to happen.

We sat on the floor as I took out a yellow marker, colored it on a piece of paper and said, “What is this?” She replied skeptically, “Yellow.” I then said, “No. Now it is a feeling. It is happiness.” Getting up off the floor she said, “I’m out.” I laughed, pulled her down on the floor with me and said, “Nooooo!  Please stay for my cool experiment.” Reluctantly she stayed as I went through all of the colors, giving them names, coloring each one on top of one another until we got to the dreaded ugly dark brown. I then said, “What color do you see on my paper?” “Brown.” “Exactly. This is what our feelings look like too when they get all mixed up. I’m noticing that you might be feeling a little brown lately. Can I help you pull out each one of these feelings and identify them so that they can reflect the color, or feeling they are meant to be?”

I gave her the yellow marker and asked her to write down a feeling she was having. She then took all of the bright beautiful colors and said, “Mom, let me show you how I do life.” She made a nice rainbow with only the bright colors and said, “These are the colors I like to feel.” Then she took all of the dark colors, aggressively colored on the paper, then folded it up tightly so that I could only see her bright colors and said, “These dark colors are best unfelt and hidden.”

Finding purpose in our feelings

WOW!  What a beautiful window into her soul. I then took that paper, ironed it out with my fingers and created a teachable moment to tell her that those who love her love ALL of the colors, entirely. Not only that, I took a black marker, outlined the bright colors and said, “These dark colors make the bright colors brighter. In the same way, our feelings that are not easy to feel allow us to feel the brighter feelings brighter. God created each one of the colors in the rainbow for a reason and they all balance together to reflect his glory in creation in a marvelous, miraculous way. They are ever-changing in the sunrise and sunset and throughout the seasons. Our feelings are the same way. Made for a purpose to reveal his glory in us, his most prized creation. They are ever-changing and take us through the seasons of life. We must identify and feel each one in order for them to fulfill their purpose, rather than mixing them all together and settling with the brown.

This opened up an opportunity to talk through some difficult feelings she was having and what to do with them. I am thankful that the Lord is so faithful to generously give us wisdom when we ask. I am thankful for each and every color or feeling that God created for a purpose. We are working on feeling them all and allowing them to reflect his glory in a way that only he can as his light shines through. It turns out that when life gets to a boiling point, rainbows are much better than cotton candy.

**If you want to take this experiment further, search for Bible Verse Feeling Wheel online. This is a great resource that connects colors to feelings to bible verses!

Consider a few extra resources:

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Melanie Domen

Melanie Domen is a Parenting Coach and communicator in the Dallas area. She and her husband of 24 years,Jeff, have 4 children ranging in ages 20 to 10.  Her passion is inspiring parents to build strong relationships with their children, while  also establishing healthy boundaries and communication.  Melanie is certified in Love and Logic®, and has a degree in Early Childhood Education from Baylor University.   Melanie’s “happy place” is at home, around the dinner table with her family, followed by dishes and dancing in the kitchen. To learn more about Melanie, visit www.piparenting.com.

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