This morning my 6 year old and I were having breakfast and discussing a very emotional week that we had together. Our routine had been completely shifted around as we were supporting a dear family member who was having significant surgery. My 6 year old had his plan for his school holidays completely altered by this family event and as we landed back into the school term this week he had been expressing anger and being demanding in ways that were out of character for him. I had been feeling emotional and stressed about our family member and the cascade of changes to our schedule that I was trying to manage. My patience had been tested under the weight of my stress and worry.
Over breakfast we started chatting about how we were both feeling. I showed him a photo of an iceberg and we marveled at how beautiful it was and at the mysterious way that only part of the iceberg is seen on the surface yet a huge, larger portion of iceberg was underneath the water.
As we kept on eating I said to him "maybe our feelings are like icebergs. Our anger is like the part of the iceberg we see above the water yet underneath (inside us) we have lots of other feelings that other people can't see." I started then to explain that when I have got upset with him and been impatient, under the water I have been feeling stressed, tired, worried etc.
At that point breakfast came to a halt as my son gathered us both papers and pens. With breakfast almost done and despite the urgency of needing to get moving to start our day, this precious opportunity to connect and debrief after a challenging few days together was priceless. My very eloquent son drew himself an iceberg and gave me a piece of paper to draw mine. He then started to articulately name many of the feelings he had under his iceberg - drawing faces for each feeling and asking me for the spelling of words he wasn't sure about. I too drew up my iceberg and my feelings underneath it. We named sadness, disappointment, fear, confusion, anticipation, happiness., tiredness, stress, worry,.. lots of feelings in different measures.
We looked at each of our drawings and discussed each feeling. It was great to be able to unpack what more vulnerable feelings were underneath his angry feelings and my impatient tones. He was still thinking about what other feeling words he hadn't yet named while we were getting the last few things ready for the day.
He took his iceberg to school and said that he wanted to add feelings to it as he thought of them.
When we said goodbye as I dropped him at school we both felt good and loved and connected despite a difficult time we had shared.
This iceberg conversation can be profound. It is powerful and accessible whether its between a parent and child like us, or between family members and partners. Anger is always a secondary feeling and working out what's underneath and taking the time to talk about those "under the iceberg" feelings can make all the difference. It can change the conversation and build connection.