The little girl seemed to stare directly out of the book. Her soft auburn hair sat nicely on her shoulders; her cheeks were rosy and bursting with health. But it was her eyes that told the story. Gazing into the distance as if in anticipation of what was supposed to come, they provided the best indication of how the poor child felt.

Our elder son took his time to study the picture of the little girl staring out of the window. He seemed transfixed by the image; choosing neither to turn the page, nor to put down the book. After what seemed like hours, the two-year-old pointed at the girl with a frown on his forehead. 

"Lonely," he said.

"Oh?" asked his Daddy. "What do you mean, Z?"

"Lonely," insisted the little boy.

"Are you lonely, my son?" asked the father.

"Yes," he replied.

It was some months ago that I discovered just how useful "My Little Book of Feelings" was. It was a simple pocket-sized board book, with pictures of children in various emotional states. On the first page was a girl jumping wildly on a trampoline. The caption by its side said, "I am happy." The second page depicted a boy bursting into tears and standing by the side of a broken vase on the floor. The caption read, "I am sad."

But it was to the page with a little girl staring out of the window that Z often flipped to. The child wore an obvious frown on her face, and it appeared that she was waiting for her friends, playmates who did not provide any indication that they would appear. The caption read, "I am lonely."

I realised then that not only was my older son craving the company of older playmates, but that at the age of 2/1/2 years, that he had learnt how to articulate his emotions and name his feelings. This was something I know many children are not able to do, even up to their adolescent years.

One of the first few things I learnt when I started working with young people more than 10 years ago was to teach them how to articulate their emotions. It was something I incorporated into my interactions with them and used when I counselled them. I adopted this method frequently during my time with the youth ministry in church. For instance there was a 13-year-old who approached me because he was bullied in school. After taking the time to understand the situation, I asked him to share in words how he felt when he was bullied, and then taught him how to respond whenever he felt those same emotions. 

Then there was the 15-year-old who was visibly distraught and refused to utter a word when I first attempted to ask him what was wrong. I altered my approach and sat there with him for more than twenty minutes without saying a single word (believe me it felt more like twenty hours). After learning to be comfortable in the awkwardness of silence, the teenager finally expressed how he was feeling in the rawest of emotions. Words were painfully strung together to make phrases, and these were then yanked together into sentences and eventually paragraphs. And the boy finally breathed a sigh of relief when he was able to finally articulate exactly how he felt about his troubled situation.

Remembering these precious moments, I knew I had struck an emotional gold mine when my son first learnt how to articulate that he was feeling "lonely".

In the months that followed, Sue and I frequently used the book to teach our son how to express himself in words, as well as to teach him the meaning of different emotions and how they can be related to everyday life. On one occasion we were especially thrilled during a morning walk near our home. Our little son clung to his mother with one hand and with the other, he slipped it into mine. "Happy Z", he said, clearly beaming from ear to ear.

And just this week we were with the extended family at one of the indoor theme parks in Genting Highlands. Z was having a whale of a time enjoying the rides with his grandparents. We were rather surprised as our son had previously demonstrated a physical aversion towards crowds, sometimes choosing to completely extricate himself from the situation. Nonetheless, we continued with the rest of the holiday given that he seemed to have enjoyed himself thoroughly. 

Sometime during the next day, Sue casually asked him whether he had enjoyed himself at the theme park. "Noisy," he replied. We asked him if he wanted to go for more amusement rides, and were surprised when he answered firmly with a "No!" After a few more questions, which each received a blank stare, our son finally looked at us sadly and said, "Lonely." Upon more probing we eventually realised that while he had enjoyed the time at the theme park, he had found the overall experience overwhelmingly noisy; moreover what distressed him the most was the feeling of being alone in the midst of a crowd. We realised then that our two-year-old was continually reflecting on issues of identity and acceptance, complex emotional issues that even adolescents and adults continue to grapple with. 

Our older son continues to astonish us everyday. There are times when we ask ourselves why our son persists in his temper tantrums and other trying behaviours. Yet there are the precious moments when we realise that our child is truly one-of-a-kind; an individual who possesses a deep sense of himself and the world around; a deep thinker who reflects on issues via a unique perspective; a diamond in the rough with an emotional capacity way beyond his years.

We are proud of you Z, and will always be proud of who you are and all you are!


  1. Wonderfully written, Mark. I have always taken the ability to recognize and articulate my feelings and those of others around me for granted. Until I met my boy. He is the other side of the coin from your Z.

  2. Thanks k9! It's true that as articulate adults we tend to forget how difficult it is for some others to speak what's on their mind in a coherent manner... And yes, parenting for every kid is different...

  3. Wow, pretty amazing insights. I love how you took the time to find out how Z found his experience of his holiday. I'm an introvert myself, and not a typical one at that, so this level of sensitivity is appreciated : )

  4. Thanks Ami :) I never knew you were an introvert.

    Well, I guess in learning to love your child you try your best to understand him - not only his behaviour and habits, but also his emotions and dispositions. That's the heart of parenting - love :)


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