"How can you soften a mad-feeling face?" I ask. "Sing the chicken song," says Abby.

Hazel Terry
 Mom, artist, and faculty member at Adams Smith College, Scotland. 
Find her blog.

I remember the first time I really became aware of how I carry my troubles around with me. I was upset and my husband asked, “Are you mad?” The question startled me.

No,I replied, “No, I’m fine!” 

He looked at me and said, “Well, you might want to tell your face.” 

That experience is an example that encouraged me to teach emotion awareness and feeling vocabulary to the children in my class (3 to 6-year-olds). I realized how helpful it is to recognize feelings in ourselves as a first step to noticing these same feelings in others, which is a step towards understanding empathy and later, compassion.
During circle, I told the kids that when I was upset and having uncomfortable feelings, I happened to see my face in a mirror. I said, "My face looked hard like the sidewalk. My eyes were squinted, and there was a deep line on my forehead and between my eyes.  

I then asked a few questions about their experience with feelings. Children, how do you know when you're upset?

I start yelling or crying."

“My heart beats fast.”

“My hands are fists like fighting.”

“My stomach has a cramp.”

I'm like I stepped in dog poop.”

I kick a stone.

I bite my brother.

I complimented their personal awareness. Then I wondered out loud, What are some things we can do to calm the upset?"

"Count to ten."

“Run around your bedroom.”

“Think the opposite of mad.”

Tell the trouble doll why you're mad.”

“Get the clay and squeeze it hard.”

Breathe in and out.”

"Tell your mouth to laugh."

“Sing the Chicken Song.”

“Wiggle your nose.”

“Imagine ice cream for dessert.”

“Pretend a butterfly lands on you.”

“Say hello to Carly (the pet hamster).”

“Do big eyes.”

I paused and then said that it seemed like they knew a lot about taking care of their feelings instead of pretending the feelings are not inside of their bodies. I ended by saying that I notice that my feelings pass quicker if I let myself feel hurt if it comes, sad, frustrated, nervous, or angry.

Abby said, I like when mommy holds me and my feelings.

I learned more about softening my face in Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart. My son had just died and I was aware that my feelings were so painful that I could feel myself harden and begin to isolate from others. 

Chödrön says about softening, “It involves learning to relax and allowing ourselves to move gently toward what scares us. The trick to doing this is to stay with emotional distress…to let fear soften us rather than harden into resistance.” She explains that when we can do this, we connect to all others who share a similar experience.

Putting gaps in our emotional difficulty by looking up at the sky on a walk or with laughter or song are Chödrön's practical suggestions.