In 1967 The Troggs sang, I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes. In 1969 BJ Thomas sang he was Hooked on a feeling. In 1976, the group Boston’s megahit was titled More than a feeling. In each case the lyrics acknowledged something rising from deep inside the human body, an almost primitive something sending signals from somewhere other than our brains.
Predating these recordings, a comic book, Amazing Fantasy #15 went on sale in August 1962. It introduced us to a new breed of superhero. Endowed with incredible strength and a hyper sensitivity to danger, Peter Parker, aka Spiderman, leapt into publication and history from the minds of writer-editor Stan Lee and writer-artist Steve Ditko.
Spiderman, through the bite of a radioactive spider, was able to foresee impending danger through his newly developed tingling spider sense. Spidey-sense became part of the language of comic book fans. Did Lee and Ditko create this early warning system or did they just accentuate what they already knew about humanity’s instinct for self-preservation?
When do/did you experience butterflies in your stomach? The first recorded use of this expression was in 1908! In various articles written about the biology of our gut and the sensations it can produce authors refer to the gut as our second brain! From my inquiry into this phenomenon I found some quotes from anonymous sources that give parents, guardians, and teachers reasons to pause, reflect and maybe engage our children or wards in conversation.
Always trust your gut
It knows what your head hasn’t figured out yet
Our gut feelings never lie the way people do
Give yourself permission to immediately walk away from anything that gives you bad vibes
There is no need to explain or make sense of it. Just trust the little voice when it’s telling you to do so
Just how do we engage our kids in talking about this idea of instinctual response to a situation? Cats and dogs provide talking points about visceral responses to stimuli. We have all seen and heard a cat telling us it is not happy. The telltale arched back, the baring of the teeth, the guttural hiss, hair standing up on its back all alert us to an animal that is instinctually responding to an interior alarm system. Dogs pull back their lips, increase saliva production, growl, bark, have back hair stand up and become very territorial.
What about us humans? Chemical changes in our gut produce the fluttering effect of butterflies. We can all recall instances when this occurred: performing on stage in front of a group; looking down from a great height; asking a special someone for a first date; sitting for an exam; going to the doctor’s office; and so forth. On 13 September 2005 Julia Layton, for How Stuff Works.com, wrote How Fear Works. She noted the following changes that can occur in our bodies as over 30 hormones course through our bodies: heart rate and blood pressure increase, pupils in the eye dilate to take in as much light as possible, veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the “chill” sometimes associated with fear — less blood in the skin to keep it warm), blood-glucose level increases, muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps — when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them), smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs, nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions, trouble focusing on small tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from). This is all background for any discussion you have with your children.
I would ask a child to describe how they feel when they get butterflies. I would ask them to think back to the moments before they felt them.
I would also involve them in a discussion using universally known tales about children meeting strangers: Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White.
Have your children act out the story of Red Riding Hood for you. If they stumble, go ahead and take over the retelling; be outrageous. Overdo every part of it. Ask your child to describe the face of a wolf. Ask your child how Red would allow a wolf to have a conversation with her, why she would walk through the forest with the Wolf by her side. What was she thinking? Shouldn’t she have sensed something was wrong? Really emphasize the part of Red’s encounter with the Wolf in Grandma’s house: What big eyes you have! What big teeth you have! Ask your child, what do you think Red feels at that moment? How can Red not recognize the Wolf from having met him just a little while ago? Ask if Red is feeling something in her gut? Perhaps use the following expression: Our gut feelings never tell lies the way people do.
Snow White’s meeting with the Evil Queen in disguise as the old hag is truly a wonderful teaching moment for anyone concerned with stranger safety awareness. Snow White not only stops and talks with the hag/stranger but accepts an apple from her. Didn’t Snow White’s parents ever talk to her about NOT taking anything from a stranger? Snow White should give herself permission to immediately walk away from anything that gives her bad vibes. There is no need to explain or make sense of it. She should just trust the little voice when it’s telling her to do so.
The stories from our past, fairy tales, even ones about superheroes, give us opportunities for teachable moments about stranger safety awareness. It is too bad that some characters ignore their own Spidey Senses. Although the stories come with happy endings, our kids may get only one chance to respond to the feelings of discomfit in their guts. The fluttery feeling of butterflies can be used to reinforce one of the great tenets the Rose Brucia Educational Foundation has stressed but in a different way. Butterflies fly away at a moment’s notice. Children should also fly away, RUN away as fast as possible at a moment’s notice. The butterfly sensation is telling us something about the world around us: it knows what your head hasn’t figured out yet. Let’s make our kids as safe as we can. Let’s make an amazing fantasy a real world occurrence.