Every parent wants their children to thrive in social settings. Some parents try to develop courage, self-confidence, and independence in their children while others focus more on compassion, acceptance, and empathy. But did you know that developing emotional health in children nurtures all of those virtues? According to multiple studies, preschoolers who participate in social-emotional skills programs exhibit less aggression and anxiety. Even more, they become better social problem solvers. The big question centers on how parents can nurture the emotional health of their children? Let’s take a look at five surprising ways.
Emotional health starts by helping children identify their feelings
When children are upset, even about the smallest things, it’s important to acknowledge, recognize, and then name their feelings. Doing so helps children identify feelings as they arise. The key is to use words children can easily understand. For example,
- “You seem angry when you are not included in the fun. Do you want to talk about it?”
- “You seem stressed when your teacher gives so much homework. Is that true?”
Put another way, “Daddy left on a trip, you are sad. I’m here if you want to talk about it?” By giving children a label for their emotions, you enable them to develop a vocabulary for talking about feelings.
You can use yourself as an example. “Remember yesterday when the bathtub got stopped up? Daddy got so mad and did you remember what my face looked like when I got mad? Can you make that face like Daddy’s?”
You can use pictures, books, or videos to help get your point across. “Sweetie, look at Little Red Riding Hood’s face; do you think she’s scared or angry when she sees the wolf in her Grandmother’s bed?” You can use real-life conflicts to help children identify their feelings. For example, “You seem mad because you want to play with your friends instead of eating dinner with us. I felt that way when I was your age.”
Nurturing emotional health in children starts by helping them label their feelings. The trick is to respect your kiddo’s feelings, even if you disagree with them. Help children wrap language around their feelings. Let them talk things out, no matter how you feel about the situation. Nurturing a child’s emotional awareness is the first and most critical step to develop emotional health and secure attachment patterns in children.
Help children understand their feelings
Give children lots of opportunities to understand their feelings. You might say, “I see how much you smile when you ride your bike. Why are you so happy? In contrast, if he is feeling down but doesn’t know why, get curious and encourage him to talk it out: “It looks like you’re really sad because Joey couldn’t play with you today. Do you want to talk about it?” Or you might point out a situation and ask your kiddo to reflect on what someone else may be feeling: “Gavin just bumped his head on the slide. How do you think he feels right now?” The more your child talks about feelings, the more he’ll understand why he feels that way and why others feel the way they do about situations.
Help children can regulate their feelings
Emotional self-regulation is just like riding a bike; it takes lots of practice. Since children learn from their role models, talk about how you regulate your feelings. “When I get mad, I take a deep breath, count to three, and then try to think of the best way to deal with my problem. Sweetie, how do you think that might help you in tough situations?”
Emotional health involves helping children develop pro-social ways to deal with big feelings. So, let your kiddo come up with ways she can deal with her feelings. Or, point out positive examples like, “I noticed how excited you were when Gavin knocked on the front door to see if you could play. But this time, you didn’t jump on the couch, yell, or hit your brother with excitement. How did you do all that?” You can also talk about not so positive ways to deal with big emotions. “You are having a difficult time putting your bike in the bike rack. You seem really frustrated. You can take a deep breath and try again, or you can ask me for help. What do you want to do?”
Help children can express their feelings in pro-social ways
Modeling positive ways to express feelings and then teaching those same strategies puts kids on the fast-track to emotional health. For example, you might tell your child, “Sometimes your mom gets angry when things don’t go well at home. What does she do? She stops to pause. Then, she sits on the porch until she figures out what she wants to say about the situation. What might happen if you sat on the porch the next time you get angry?”
Sometimes children express their emotions in problematic ways. Here are a few positive strategies to teach children how to manage troubled feelings:
- Ask for help
- Use your words, not your fist
- Say it, don’t do it (say “I’m mad instead of throwing toys)
- Tell a grown-up
- Take a deep breath
- Describe what you are feeling
- Relax and try again
- Walk away
- Ask for a hug
Again, these strategies take modeling and practice.
Help children read and overserve emotions in others
Studies show that empathy, even at a young age, is a sign of emotional health. One of the best ways to help young children develop empathy is to point out visual clues in others. For your little ones, picture books offer loads of help. For example, when a happy, scary, or frustrating event occurs in a bedtime story, pause and look at the picture together. “Sweetie look at her face. How do you think she’s feeling right now?” Study the characters’ facial expressions and their body language. You can use this same technique while watching media together.
As children become sensitive to the cues of others, they can identify with the perspectives of others. Empathy is key to enjoying successful relationships in life, no matter the context. Whether on the playground, in the classroom, or at home with friends or siblings, help children read emotions in others to improve their emotional health.
A Point To Ponder
Nurturing emotional health in children is vital to their development—far too vital to be left to chance. By modeling emotional health, you can help pave the way for children to become independent young people who thrive!
|Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more effective. He is the founder of In Touch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today’s parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive. read more about Steve Cuffari here…|