“Did anyone have an oops today?” asked my four-year-old son at the dinner table last night.
“Oh, I did!” replied his six-year-old sister. “I left my Patriots hat on the bus in the morning. But my oops is also my yay because the bus driver found it and gave it to me in the afternoon!”
“I had a blah today, Mommy,” my son told me later. “I had an accident at school. I just didn’t want to stop playing and use the potty! Did you have a blah, too?”
These three words have changed the after-school conversation in our house.
It began with sharing a daily oops. One day last spring, my daughter burst into tears when she got in the car. She had misunderstood the directions on an art project. “I ruined it!” she wailed. It wasn’t the first time she had come home upset about a mistake or misunderstanding. Her amazing teachers and I both talked to her about how mistakes are part of how we learn and grow!
She wasn’t buying it.
So I made her a deal. Every afternoon, we would each share one mistake we had made that day. And then we would give each other a high-five! That caught her attention — it seemed silly to cheer mistakes, but it also sounded like fun.
The daily oops became a new routine. Then one day she mentioned something that “wasn’t really an oops.” It was a situation on the playground that made her feel sad inside. We decided to call it a blah — an event that felt sad, discouraging, scary, or boring. That’s how we added blahs to our daily sharing.
And then — to round out our recaps — we decided to share a yay too: something that made us feel happy inside.
At some point, her little brother started adopting this language. “Can I share my oops, too? Can I share my blah? I have a yay!”
This simple conversation model has helped our family in at least two ways:
1. It reminds us that days aren’t all good or all bad.
When I ask my kids, “How was your day?” they tend to respond with one word: good. That doesn’t open up much space for conversation — and it also leaves out the parts of the day that didn’t feel so good.
Every day has ups and downs. Every day we experience a rainbow of feelings. By sharing our yay, oops, and blah moments, we normalize the fact that nearly every day contains all three feelings. Happy moments, mistakes or missteps, and challenges or upsets. Some days have more yays than blahs. And some have a more blahs than yays. And that’s okay.
As psychologist Susan David shared in her recent TED talk on emotional agility, “Research now shows that the radical acceptance of all of our emotions — even the messy, difficult ones — is the cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness.” When we push aside what we perceive as “bad feelings,” she says, “we may inadvertently shame [children] out of emotions seen as negative, jump to a solution, and fail to help them to see these emotions as inherently valuable.” And as Daniel Tiger’s song reminds us: “It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Little by little, you’ll feel better again.”
2. It makes room for meaningful sharing.
Both as a kid and as an adult, I have sometimes felt unsure about how and when to share difficult emotions. As a parent, I usually focus on sharing my “positive” feelings with my kids. They need their mom to be happy, right? Actually, they need adults who can model sharing and working through challenges in healthy ways. So I let them know that I got frustrated when I lost a file at work and how I responded to that situation. I tell them, “Here was my blah today: I felt sad when I broke an ornament your grandpa gave me. It was really special to me.” They are fascinated to hear how I work through my problems and disappointments.
Recently, when I became too frustrated during the morning rush of breakfast-backpacks-bus, one of my kids said, “I think you are having your oops right now, Mom.” That made me pause: “Does all this rushing make you feel blah?” I asked. Two little heads nodded up and down. That was important feedback for all of us, and we have worked together (slowly!) to modify our morning routine.
Emotions are not good or bad. All emotions are part of the human experience. Even our best days have blah moments. And we can find daily yays in unexpected places — such as the comfort of taking a few moments each day to share our feelings with the people we love.