Rachel Vail's New Book Explores Social Emotional Learning, How Kids Deal with Big Feelings
Award-winning children's book author Rachel Vail took time to chat with Heidi Holtan and Kari Hedlund about her new book Sometimes I Grumblesquinch. The book, illustrated by Hyewon Yum, was published at a time when kids haven't had the practice of daily social emotional learning that comes with daily interactions with peers, neighbors, and strangers. Click the "Listen" player above to hear the full conversation PLUS a special guest interview with a young reader of the book.
According to the publisher's blurb, "Sometimes I Grumblesquinch explores social emotional learning (SEL), and how little kids are often dealing with big feelings—bigger than they can manage." For Vail, writing this book was a way to share with kids and adults that those big emotions are not to be ashamed of, and are part of being a whole, complex human. "The tamping down of those big feelings, that's the grumblesquinch," Vail said to Heidi and Kari. "It's great when a kid wants to be pleasant, but that's not their job to only be pleasant."
Vail encourages parents to help their kids to embrace those big emotions. "There's room for the whole you. Just by being a person, you have the deluxe ticket to the deluxe buffet of all the human emotions. All you can feel! And I will love you with all of that. That's a beautiful conversation about the book" she said.
The inclination for empathetic kids to try to avoid those big feelings in order to be pleasant or be thought of as 'good' can be a dangerous coping mechanism. "We all learn not to explore our feelings out, which is good, but especially women and girls are taught that they have to stay pleasant, stay pleasing," Vail said. "They have to grumblesquinch their negative feelings down in a really severe way. I don't think it's a toggle where you have to explode your feelings out or just implode them and smoosh them down tight into such a tumor of a nut. I don't think either one of those is the right or healthy response."
"A lot of us have have really taught ourselves to do that so much that we don't recognize what we're actually feeling. And instead we hid our feelings so tight that we think that's way of being. But that's like putting makeup on a zit. At best it's unconvincing," Vail said. "But probably you're looking at a lot of mess and puss and infection later."
Heidi added that especially women are told their whole lives to be good, be friendly.
"And for men too," Kari added. "Feeling those softer emotions is not traditionally accepted. I think it comes from all angles for all genders."
"Men are definitely put into a box," Vail said. "They're allowed to feel rage, but not sadness or tenderness or nostalgia. All the softer emotions, and that puts them in a terrible box."
Much of Grumblesquinch has to do with social emotional learning, something that author Rachel Vail has been thinking about for a long time.
"My mom is a school psychologist, so we talked about feelings a lot," Vail said. "But I grew up in a world where girls are supposed to be nice. But I also had to learn as I grew up and through adulthood, through parenthood, that I'm allowed to have big feelings too. And that I sometimes need to turn to someone I love and trust and say 'AHHHHHH, here's what I'm feeling and I'm angry or I'm scared' or any of those big complex feelings and catch myself grumblesquinching my feelings down."
Over two years into the pandemic, it seems that Sometimes I Grumblesquinch is not just for kids. "I realized, wow, I not only wrote that book for my older son, but also for little Rachel when I was a kid," Vail said. I needed to know these things. And also for two-years-future-me. I realized I was grumblesquinching my feelings down and I needed to share them with my husband and close friends in order to fully experience who I am as a person, but then to move on to happier feelings."
For more information about Sometimes I Grumblesquinch, check out Rachel Vail's website here.