As a result of decades of research showing a connection between our emotional well-being and success in life, many schools are now looking at or beginning to teach emotional intelligence with social learning. If you are a parent, it is likely that your child is being taught about emotions in school, or will be in the near future. Schools, however, are unable to help children develop emotional resiliency on their own. They need help and support from parents.
As a parent you may be wondering if there is anything you can do. Here are some basic ways you can help your child understand and develop healthy emotions.
Be open to, accept and encourage your child’s emotional responses.
Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are, and everyone is entitled to their feelings, including your child. Always encourage them to express their feelings through questioning. For example if they look sad or upset and aren’t speaking, you could ask. “You look down today; did something happen”? Never pass judgment or doubt their feelings. For them, their feelings are real and authentic.
Help your children sort through their feelings
Sometimes your children, like adults, will have a problem identifying what the actual feeling is. You can help them by suggesting, but never telling them, what they might be feeling. For example, you could say. “If my best friend wouldn’t talk to me, I would probably feel abandoned or unwanted…does that sound right?” You could share your feelings if you experienced a similar situation, thereby encouraging your child to open up and trust you with their feelings. Make your home a safe place for your child to bring, share and sort out their feelings.
Actively model expressing and sharing feelings with your child
Share emotions that you have had throughout the day with your child. For example if you became angry because someone cut you off in traffic, share how you handled it in a positive manner. Also share how good it felt when your boss commended you for a job well done. Ask your child about his or her day and situations that brought up strong emotions for them, both positive and negative.
Help them create awareness of how others are feeling
You can help your child become more aware of others feelings by asking them how they would feel if the same thing happened to them. When your children talk about something happening at school to someone, ask them to imagine how that person felt. To encourage them to think in this manner, share with them your thoughts on how someone felt in your world when something happened to them.
Help children recognize the stressors in their lives and learn techniques to deal with them
Talk to your children about their stress, what causes it and how they feel the stress. Find out how they become aware that they are stressed. A common area to feel stress for adults or children is to have an upset stomach. Ask your child how their tummy feels and then explain this is a signal from their body to be aware of in the future. Share some of your own stressors and ways you deal with them. Offer your children alternative ways to deal with stress and ask if they have any ways that work for them. For example, deep breathing, focusing on a pleasing place, pet, person or situation. Ask them to remember a stressful situation that came up for them in the past that turned out okay.
Teach and encourage problem solving
Go over scenarios that might happen with your child and explore ways that they could problem solve. Look at a number of solutions and try to come to an agreement as to which would be the best. For example, if he or she were bullied what would be some of the ways to deal with it. Which solution would have the best chance for the most positive outcome? Encourage thinking about solving problems before they happen; this prepares children to make better choices when they need to. This skill also encourages them to ask for and be open to receiving help from their family, friends and trusted adults.
Recognize and praise them for times when they remained in control
Acknowledge situations where your child could have let their emotions run amuck but remained in control and praise them for it. “I like the way that you didn’t get frustrated and hit your little brother when he kept interfering in your game. I noticed you calmly found something fun for him to do. That was a great way to deal with him. How does that feel?”