Nadim Saad, Founder of The Happy Confident Company, offers advice on how parents can help children recognise and manage negative feelings.
Research around emotions, feelings and the importance of emotional intelligence has skyrocketed in recent years and every piece of research has reached the same conclusion: feelings drive almost all of our decisions and behaviours, so they are a key driver of our lives.
In learning to process and deal with uncomfortable feelings, it’ll give children the power to shift them and be their happier selves. Even more so, in challenging times, such as the current pandemic, where emotions run high, having strong emotional literacy and the ability to regulate our emotions makes a huge difference in our ability to cope.
How Can we Help our Children Manage their Emotions?
Learning how to process difficult emotions is a skill, and it takes practice. For adults this can be tough, and for children even tougher as they are even more prone to emotional overwhelm.
Without realising it, parents will often make processing emotions even tougher for their children due to a tendency to want to ‘save’ children from unpleasant feelings. This is commonly done by minimising feelings – for example “boys don’t cry!” or “it’s not that bad!” or “stop being angry!”.
Fixing Problems Can Lead to More Problems
As parents, we also often attempt to ‘fix’ things with a view to protecting our children, and this can also create a greater issue. In fixing, protecting and minimising, children may be led to believe that they ‘shouldn’t’ feel the way they’re feeling and will often, therefore, wrongly perceive that difficult feelings are problematic. That in having those feelings, it’s not normal and that they shouldn’t be feeling that way. They will often then attempt to supress these feelings, believing them to be bad for them. In the act of deflection they are, in fact, removing some of their cognitive ability – busying the brain with the act of suppression.
Feelings Don’t Just Go Away
If supressed, feelings find a way to come out, often in other behaviours. This suppression also causes a greater issue, with a long-term consequence. Through deflection and suppression, children don’t learn to deal with unpleasant feelings. They grow up looking for quick fixes through avoidance (gaming, social media, TV or sport) to replace their unpleasant feelings. What they are not doing is learning to recognise them, understand them, label them, express them in an appropriate way and regulate them.
So, how can we teach children how to do this to better manage uncomfortable feelings and get back to their happier selves?
Get Some Perspective
The first step is to take a more compassionate perspective on situations, by realising that in any given situation, both parent and child have good intentions and we are all doing the best we can with the information, tools and training that we have. When our children behave even in unacceptable ways, they are doing it because they have an unmet need (such as attention/connection, love or safety) that they don’t know how to express in an effective way.
Recognising and Managing Emotions
As parents, and guides, and role models for our children, teaching them the art of emotional regulation is critical to help them develop a healthy relationship with themselves. It’s important not only that they understand that all emotions are healthy, but also that in understanding their emotions, and recognising that they are just temporary states, that they have the power to shift them.
There are many scholarly articles on the subject of feelings, and there is one, irrefutable scientific fact. When you can identify and name your feelings, it helps you process them better, and feel calmer. This is because we process emotions in the right side of the brain, and when we can name a feeling, we make a connection with the left part of the brain. This act immediately reduces the intensity of the emotion and helps us begin to self-regulate. So, the most effective way of helping your child better deal with emotions is to connect with them using empathy, and then help them name their feelings and shift it to a more pleasant one.
However, children usually have a limited vocabulary and understanding of feelings. And we have a tendency as parents to box feelings into headline categories. For example, outbursts are often always described as the all-encompassing ‘anger’. By being able to identify our feelings, at the stage where they start to transition into something more unpleasant, is an incredible life skill. Helping our children understand the intricacies of their feelings and their triggers, giving them a wider vocabulary and understanding of complex emotions will help them to learn the skill of regulation.
This blog was written by Nadim Saad, founder of The Happy Confident Company. They have produced a ‘FEELIT!’ card game, which has been created, designed and developed to be used by the whole family, helping everyone to better understand, identify, define and articulate their feelings. Bright Horizons families can get a free download of the FEELIT! Lite game, which is not only a fun game for the family, but is also there to help your children start to better express themselves.
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