SUPPORTING OUR CHILDREN’S EMOTIONAL HEALTH – Pt. 1: Naming Our Emotions
We have been working really hard to protect our children’s physical safety and health. But what about their emotional health? Helping our children develop emotional intelligence will be of great value during crisis, uncertain times and into their adulthood.
“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” – Oscar Wilde
Everything is different. Many of us have had to make significant changes to our daily lives, but no one has had to endure more changes than our children. If they are old enough they understand why they can’t go to school or see their friends. If they are little, they just really can’t fathom.
Either way, this drastic change may be affecting them, even if they don’t tell us. We need to make sure we tend not only to their physical safety and health but to their mental and emotional health as well.
I’m not a mental health professional, so I can’t speak to that, but I’m an expert in emotional intelligence, and that’s what I want to talk about today.
Emotional intelligence is not a subject often discussed at home or in schools, unfortunately, and I’m here today to make a case to change that.
Do you know why we “don’t discuss religion, sports, and politics?” Because these subjects are extremely personal and highly charged with emotions and most of us do not know how to handle emotions much less have conversations while emotionally charged.
But what if we could change that? What if we knew how to handle our emotions and help others manage theirs as well? What if we could regulate ourselves wen things got heated? Then we could actually have those conversations. We would be able to accept each other’s differences, respect each other better, and have better relationships, whether we agree or disagree on a subject.
The case for emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage our own emotions as well as the emotions of others. It’s the ability to be empathetic, self-motivated, and easily adaptable to changes. And the best part? These skills can be learned!!!
These abilities allow us to have better interactions and relationships, feel more confident and independent, be more resilient, empathetic and compassionate, better at decision making and conflict management, more assertive and less impulsive, and happier and healthier overall.
These skills can make a significant difference in anyone’s life but much more so in our children’s! Supporting them in becoming more emotionally intelligent can bring about many benefits in their childhood that they can carry into adulthood.
One of the biggest challenges for both adults and children is emotional self-regulation, i.e., to avoid lashing out or “blowing up” when emotions are running high.
The most common reason for blow-ups is suppressed emotions, which can take the form of life dramas, fear, anger, hurt, grief, shame, guilt, pain, shock, or resentment. Studies have shown that suppressing our emotions (“sucking it up”) can be extremely harmful to our physical and mental health as well as general well-being.
Suppressing our emotions can lead to physical stress, depression, and cellular inflammation. It can affect our blood pressure, memory, and self-esteem. Suppressed emotions can become like a pressure cooker, if not tended to, it can explode.
The first step to avoid blow-ups (and its consequences) is to develop emotional awareness: understand our emotions, how they manifest physically, what they mean, and how they affect others. Only then we will be able to manage and control them.
1. Talk about emotions
If you personally have a hard time talking about your emotions, right now is the best time to get started as there is so much going on, there is a lot to talk about. Besides, everyone is feeling it too.
Kids may be fearful or anxious about their health and their future or of their loved ones. They may be worried or sad about the global pandemic. They may be nervous or anxious that their basic needs may not be met. They may be frustrated or annoyed that they can’t hang out with their friends, or that their summer plans have been squashed.
The easiest way to get kids talking is to model the behavior by talking to them about your feelings first, then asking them about theirs. You can help them by asking:
* How do you feel about that?
* What was your first reaction?
* What fears or anxieties are getting in your way?
* What are you excited about?
* How did that make you feel?
Emotions, everyone feels them.
Emotions names and their intensity
If “I don’t know” is their answer to how they feel, let’s help them expand their feelings vocabulary and consider the intensity of the emotion as well. We usually say that we are angry, or sad, or anxious, when in fact we may be feeling something different.
The following resources are my go-to favorites when it comes to labeling emotions and understanding emotional nuances, but you can find thousands online:
* The MoodMeter App is a great app, easy to use, and super handy.
* The Feelings Wheel, originally created by Dr. Gloria Willcox is an easy visual that allows us to easily understand the nuances of our feelings.
* The Feelings Inventory, also allows us an easy visual of the different emotions and nuances.
2. Listen, respect and validate their feelings
We all have emotions, some times several at the same time. And most certainly several throughout the day. To understand your child better, you need to understand what they are feeling, when, and why.
Give your child your full attention when talking about emotions, this is a great opportunity to connect and bond. Reflect back what you heard to ensure accuracy and to show you are listening.
Remember that different individuals may have different responses to the same event. Just because you don’t feel the same way, it doesn’t mean that you are right or wrong. Listen to your child with empathy and without judgment. It will feel good for both of you.
Different individuals, different responses, different feelings, there is no right or wrong.
3. Understand that emotions serve a purpose
Emotions have a purpose: they signal what is important to us. They tell us what we value and hold dear. When you understand connection between the emotion and its message, you will be able to help your children understand theirs as well.
For instance, when you feel angry, your emotion is telling you that you need to focus your attention on something you want to change. When you feel annoyed, you need to focus your attention on something you’ve ignored for too long (it’s nagging at you). When you feel discouraged, focus on your level of commitment. So on and so forth.
The Emotoscope, created by 6seconds.org, is a great chart to understand the purpose of each emotion. You can download it here.
Emotions tell us what we value and hold dear.
4. Emotions manifest physically
When we first feel an emotion we feel it in our bodies. For instance, when you feel angry you may feel warmer hands, fast heartbeat, narrow eyes, and tense shoulders. When you feel annoyed, you may feel a general agitation of the body, headache, and tense shoulders. When you feel discouraged, your body will turn inward, curling in slightly, you may have moist eyes, and your head down mostly.
Understanding these physical cues will help you understand how you and your children are truly feeling. Connecting with yourselves and gaining a better understanding of what you feel and why will allow you to feel more confident and in charge. You will be able to communicate better, reduce your anxiety, and avoid conflict, improving your relationships overall.
When you look at your children and you realize how they are feeling, you will be able to approach them with more subtlety and mastery. Teenagers and pre-teens don’t like to talk directly about their feelings, and little kids don’t yet know how to express their emotions, but when you are able to identify what they are feeling you can, casually, talk about it. And be the coolest adult around.
The Emotoscope also gives you a description of the physical manifestations of each emotion.
If you are feeling a little overwhelmed with all of this information, no need, please know that it gets easier the more you practice. And I’m here to support you if you need me.
When we connect with ourselves, we will be able to understand others better.
Bringing it all together
Poor emotional management can weaken our immune system, hurt our physical and mental health, and damage our relationships. The first step towards developing emotional intelligence is to develop emotional self-awareness and awareness of others by understanding what we feel, why we feel it, how it manifests and then recognize the same patterns in others.
As parents and adults, we start with ourselves so that we can model the behavior to our children and help them develop their emotional intelligence which will be really helpful now, during our current crisis, but also in their future.
We start slow and build up as we go. The more aware we become of ourselves and others, the better parents and adults we will be for our children and the more successful our children will be in the process.
Focusing on what matters most, let’s improve our communication and transform our interactions one conversation at a time.
With love and gratitude,
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