How children navigate their emotional world is critical to lifelong success.
Research shows that when parents help kids learn to manage their feelings, those children become better problem solvers when faced with an emotional situation, and are better able to engage in learning tasks.
Emotional skills are the bedrock of qualities like grit and resilience. But instead of allowing a child to fully experience a negative emotion, parents often respond with emotional helicoptering. Many common parental strategies, like minimizing either the emotion or the underlying problem or rushing to the rescue, fail to help a child learn how to help herself.
Practical steps for helping a child go through, rather than around, a negative emotion:
- Feel It. While it may seem obvious to feel emotions, many families focus on pushing away negative emotions. When we’re saying ‘don’t be sad, don’t be angry, don’t be jealous, don’t be selfish,’ we’re not coming to the child in the reality of her emotion. Validate and see your child as a sentient person who has her own emotional world.
- Show It. Similarly, many families have “display rules” around emotions — there are those it is acceptable to show, and those that must be hidden. We see expressions like ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘we don’t do anger here,’ or ‘brush it off’. We do it with very good intentions, but we are teaching that emotions are to be feared.
- Label It. Labeling emotions is a critical skill set for children.We need to learn to recognize stress versus anger or disappointment. Even very young children can consider whether they’re mad or sad, or angry or anxious or scared. Labeling emotions is also at the core of our ability to empathize. Ask ‘How do you think so-and-so is feeling? What does their face tell you?’
- Watch It Go. Even the hardest emotions don’t last forever. Help your child to notice that. Sadness, anger, frustration — these things have value, but they also pass. They’re transient, and we are bigger than they are. Say: ‘This is what sadness feels like. This is what it feels like after it passes. This is what I did that helped it pass.’” We can also help children to remember that we don’t necessarily feel the same emotion every time we have a similar experience. The high dive is scariest the first time. We might feel a lot of anxiety at one party, or in one science class, but have a different experience the next time.
Children feel stronger as they begin to learn that it’s not how they feel, but how they respond to the feeling, that counts.
Make photos with your kid, upload to the App. Write how you help your little one to recognize and deal with his/her emotions.
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