Where The Wild Things Are

[ Sootys Painting Trip ]

As a young mother I noticed that from an early age my children were drawn to stories that explored feelings of fear, sadness and anger. I remember clearly my eldest son, who is now 26, loved a particular book called “Sooty‘s Painting Trip” by Lesley Young (seems to be out of print now).  In this book, a bear accidentally spills some paint all over the floor.

The bear was mortified over what he had done and was scolded for his mistake. My son would cry every time we reached this page in the book and was so upset by it that we had to remove the book from his room before he could settle down to fall asleep.

The very next day he would bring the exact same book to me and say, “Read, Mommy, read!” At this time I had already received my Masters degree in Clinical Psychology and was familiar with the many theories on child development. None of these adequately explained what I was observing in my son.

I pondered over the strangeness of this for many years until I began exploring the concept of emotional intelligence. Through reading and life observations, I came to understand that all emotions are part of our human experience, which we need to understand in order to become strong, emotionally well-rounded adults.

In our desire for our children to be happy, the most desirable emotion for most people, we forget that happiness is only one part of our emotional spectrum. I believe that children intuitively understand that which “grown ups” have almost forgotten: that is, “negative” emotions should be acknowledged, accepted and explored as much as “positive” ones.

We underestimate the importance of raising children to have the ability to recognize, understand and react appropriately to their full array of emotions. This ability has been described as emotional intelligence and it gives children and adults the strength to cope with the stresses that life so reliably delivers.

So it is no surprise that Maurice Sendak‘s “Where the Wild Things Are” appeals widely to children.  It’s position as a “classic children’s book” reasserts this.

It is not our children’s exposure to fearful things that shapes their personality and success. It is how they are taught to process their fear. I for one can’t wait for the movie version of “Where the Wild Things Are” directed by Spike Jonze to be released in October 2009. I look forward to watching it with my daughter. I look forward to the clinging and hugging in the scary parts and mostly I look forward to the discussions it will evoke.

I look forward to our experience of feeling.