Emotions form the basis of your child's sense of well-being. They surround your child and provide a feedback loop with his mind, body, and soul. Emotions come from any of these aspects or an outside source such as a happy or sad incident. Part of growing up is learning to recognize, respond to and create emotions. Your child's emotional life is supported when he develops the skills of empathy and resilience. Empathy contributes to your child's ability to respond effectively to how he and others are feeling. Resilience permits him to direct his attention to and recognize the task at hand rather than getting bogged down with what went wrong.
Empathy means the ability to feel and respect what other people are feeling. This allows a person to relate better to others, to better understand their relationships and to respond appropriately. Empathy is particularly important to your child's mental health because it connects your child to other people. Other people offer love and support which in turn impacts how your child feels about himself, his thoughts and his actions. Empathy is now recognized as a significant contributor to student success and many college admission programs have agreed to follow the guidelines recently issued by a Harvard consortium which recognizes the value of empathy. http://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/files/gse-mcc/files/20160120_mcc_ttt_execsummary_interactive.pdf?m=1453303460 or https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/01/20/to-get-into-college-harvard-report-advocates-for-kindness-instead-of-overachieving/
Resilience refers to your child's ability to cope with stress and is related to the mind's ability to focus attention at will. This takes mind muscles that have been exercised and practiced at holding attention. In order to help you understand resilience, let's look at the descriptors used by the Connor Davidson Resilience Scale. (http://static1.squarespace.com/static/51abe64ee4b0a1344208e98a/t/51d3ce77e4b001d5c13a7e87/1372835447995/CD-RISC+%28Connor+%26+Davidson%2C+2003%29.pdf)
"Able to adapt to change
Close and secure relationships
Sometimes fate or God can help
Can deal with whatever comes
Past success gives confidence for new challenge
See the humorous side of things
Coping with stress strengthens
Tend to bounce back after illness or hardship
Things happen for a reason
Best effort no matter what
You can achieve your goals
When things look hopeless, I don't give up
Know where to turn for help
Under pressure, focus ad think clearly
Prefer to take the lead in problem solving
Not easily discouraged by failure
Think of self as strong person
Make unpopular or difficult decisions
Can handle unpleasant feelings
Have to act on a hunch
Strong sense of purpose
In control of your life
I like challenges
You work to attain your goals
Pride in your achievements"
These are good descriptors of a balanced, successful, fully integrated life and as such are something we strive to teach and encourage in our children. Look at the list and consider which descriptors are strengths of your child and which areas would benefit from an increase. Some of them are facets of personality, but many can be supported by expectations and training.
Emotions are created by the mind, the body and the soul. We will look at each area independently, but remember there is a huge overlap among them.
Emotions from the mind develop in response to life's situations. You as a parent have taught appropriate emotional response from the time your child was an infant. He learned to laugh at peek-a-boo and to "read" your emotional response very early on. If you laughed, he laughed. He learned to copy you. To a certain extent, you teach your child how to respond to life's happenings. He learns through you and he may mirror your coping skills. If you notice when your child is upset, he notices that you noticed and will learn to notice others who might be emotional. If you are a good listener with other people, you are teaching your child to be empathetic. When you are emotionally upset, you teach how you cope with your emotions. If you respond well, you teach resilience. So it's important that you demonstrate and teach resilience and empathy. In doing so you are helping your child develop habits of the mind.
There are three important considerations for emotions from the body.
Your child's soul is everlasting and the emotions that he feels impact and reflect his soul life.
As a parent you have the great opportunity and responsibility to be an emotion coach and help your child learn skills that support emotional well-being, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, calls it "emotional intelligence", He explains Emotional Intelligence in this YouTube Video. It's about 5 minutes long. I encourage you to watch it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7m9eNoB3NU
John Gottman, another psychologist and author of Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child, The Heart of Parenting, has 5 suggestions:
This is not about lip service, but rather making the time to sit down with your child and giving him your complete attention. It may sound scripted but mirror your child's physical position and restate the main idea (not the same exact words- that could be annoying) of whatever he tells you. This indicates to him that you are really listening. Side benefits of this allow your child to hear what he is feeling, develop the vocabulary to describe it, and also to correct you if you've got it wrong.
This kind of listening teaches your child how to be a good listener and to be empathetic. Remember to use your "Parental Energy" as you approach your child when he is out of sorts. Take a guess at what is going on. This lets your child know that you care and often he will tell you exactly what is wrong. In addition, your observation skills of his emotions model empathy. You are teaching him to notice other people's feelings. This is the ability to read people and notice their feelings and how they are responding. It is this awareness that supports your child in friendships, the classroom, and later in his work environment and even his future marriage.
Grounding is the ability to manage the body's physical, mental and soul energy in the present moment. Grounding supports the calming of the mind, body and soul. When your child is emotionally upset, one or more of these aspects is agitated and not integrated in a balanced manner. When a child is upset the brain neurons are firing and sending chemicals through his body. At this time intellectualizing will not help. The mind is not readily available. So the best thing you can do at that moment is help your child ground. It works best if you have previously taught grounding strategies and all you have to do is remind him to use a strategy. So teach these strategies before an emotional situation arises so that he is prepared to use them. Just like everything else you teach your child, modeling is a great teaching tool. Use these strategies yourself and verbalize what you are doing. Then when your child is upset, do the strategies with him. It will probably be at least seven times that you will have to do them with your child before he does them independently.
This article from CNN has some more great ideas as well as some already mentioned here.
Two excellent, well researched programs for kids and parents are Tuning into Kids and Tools for the Mind. Both have interesting parent pages on their websites where you can learn some more ideas. http://www.tuningintokids.org.au/parents/ and https://toolsofthemind.org/learn/what-is-tools/
Beware of punishing your child for his emotions. If you feel your child just needs time alone to calm down after you have tried the emotional coaching ideas, remove yourself from his energy field. Do not send him to his room or a timeout chair. You don't want the message to be that emotions should be squashed.
Do not belittle his feelings. They are what they are and he is feeling them. Acknowledge them and accept them. Would it ever do you any good if someone told you your feelings were silly or not warranted? Your child's feelings impact him regardless of whether you think they should. Beware of saying things like "Oh that's not so bad. Get over it." "You're silly to feel that way." "Don't let that get to you." Too late it already did and if you blow off his emotions, he learns to shut them down. Never a healthy idea. It can cause him not to be true to himself and cause difficulty in trusting his intuition.
If you get so frustrated with an emotional response from your child, and feel that you might hit or belittle him, leave the situation. Step back and out. When you are calm, try again to be supportive.
Help your child develop a positive attitude. Model creating, recognizing and being grateful for life experiences. Encourage seeing the happy side of life and the joy for all of the good in life. So when joyful happens, share your gratitude for it! When the unexpected happens, model resilience by remaining calm and finding something good in the situation. For example, "Well, if we hadn't gotten lost, we would not have seen this beautiful field of flowers." Find the golden nugget. Don't let your child's personality or temperament prevent you from pointing out the good. You will not see immediate results from this. You may never see the results but your grandchildren could. Think long term.
When a child cannot express himself the way he wants to, it is a mental, emotional stressor that weakens the integration of the mind, body and soul. Vocabulary helps your child express his feelings.
In all of life, verbal skills are helpful for success in our society. Strong language skills support your child's ease in the classroom, getting along with peers and expressing his feelings. One very easy way to increase your child's vocabulary is to read aloud to him. Auditory comprehension is usually two years above his ability to read and comprehend. Chapter books are great from first grade on. They contain vocabulary that you probably do not use during regular conversations. In addition, the amount of vocabulary heard is much more extensive than normal conversations. Parents and children rarely speak to each other with as many words as they are exposed to in a chapter.
Another way to increase your child's vocabulary is to model "extended language." Here are two true stories.
This is about much more than being polite. It is teaching the child about communication. Good communication skills are the basis for academic learning especially reading, listening, writing, comprehension as well as social skills. Good communication skills lowers frustration and support a child's ease in school, life and relationships. It is not costly to improve your child's communication.
Language activities help your child develop the vocabulary skills necessary to describe objects, events and feelings. These are important skills for school, but also for life. Often times, a weakness in this area is how kids get into trouble at school, especially when they use their hands to express themselves with activities like pushing or hitting. Words are power.
Emotions surround the mind, body and soul and influence each component just as each aspect influences your child's emotions. It is to his benefit to learn about his emotional life and understand the feelings of others so that he can operate in a world with a balanced integration of his mind, body, soul and emotions. This supports his wellbeing and his relationships.
What will you implement today to support your child's emotional aspect?