Teaching your kids about emotional health can be the difference between life and death. Practical tips for teaching them, no matter what their age.
We all have areas, or domains, in our life that could use improvement. But knowing we need to improve and actually improving requires that we learn to set goals. The first domain we explored this year had to do with relational goals. This month we’ll address emotional goals. Don’t worry, this series won’t exhort you to act all touchy-feely and woo-woo. You may have grown up in a family of origin where no one talked about emotions or labeled some emotions as negative or positive. This month’s series will help you learn how to set emotional growth goals to help you improve both your mental health your relationships.
“Can you come to the office?” the principal asked me with a worried frown on his face.
“Let me drop these folders off with the registrar first,” I said. My mind spun with all the possibilities. By the time I returned to his office, my heart had started to pound.
“Have a seat,” he said as he stood up to close the door.
“What’s up?” I asked, trying to mask my anxiety.
“I found out that Laura and a friend called a suicide hotline.”
“My Laura?” I asked, incredulous. He went on to give more details and to let me know he had already informed the other parent. I sat in stunned silence.
How could this have happened? Why would a 13-year-old from a stable Christian home feel the need to call a suicide hotline? MY 13-year-old? Where had we failed?
The Key to Emotional Health is Emotional Self-Awareness
According to Giselle Ortiz, LAC, a school counselor who works with students who have experienced high levels of trauma and generational trauma, teaching self-awareness opens the doors better emotional health.
“It is important for children to be emotionally self-aware because it empowers them to make healthy decisions in every area of life. Kids who are emotionally self-aware become adults who are self-aware and are invested in emotional growth, which means high emotional intelligence.”
Good emotional health or ‘emotional intelligence’ has four to five hallmarks (depending on what research you look at). Unlike a person’s IQ, (intelligence quotient), we can improve and learn more about emotional intelligence and actually improve it. The hallmarks of EQ are:
- Self-regulation (self-management)
- Social Skills
Michael Brody-Waite, author of Great Leaders Live Like Drug Addicts: How to Lead Like Your Life Depends on It, in an interview with Donald Miller on Building a Story Brand podcast highlights the importance of teaching kids emotional self-awareness. Brody-Waite, a recovering drug addict who now runs a successful company, explains the primary reason he escaped into drug addiction as a teen,
“I hadn’t been equipped with the emotional skills to deal with life.”
How to Teach Emotional Self-awareness to Your Children
As parents with young children, we did a decent job instilling self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills in our children. Or so we thought. But without teaching them about self-awareness, our efforts to teach the other things probably fell far short of our intentions.
People know so much more about emotional intelligence than they did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. If only we’d had an emotions wheel posted on the refrigerator. Now that we know better, we can do better.
When we teach children about emotions, we give them a vocabulary for understanding themselves better and coping with life.Equip your children with emotional self-awareness so that they will enjoy better mental health later on in life. #mentalhealthawareness #emotionalselfawarenes #selfcare Click To Tweet
1. Don’t tell you kids ‘It’s ok’ and leave it at that.
If you child starts crying, screaming, or yelling (no matter if they still wear diapers or drive the car), don’t jump in with the reassurance of, ‘It’s ok.’ The cry, scream, or yell represents a strong emotion. Instead of telling them ‘it’s ok,’ ask them “What’s wrong?”
Yep. Even if they can’t talk. Let them know that you hear them and understand they want to communicate an emotion. Follow up with questions. “Do you feel sad?” “Are you hurt?” “Do you feel angry/scared/frustrated/upset?” Start giving your child the vocabulary to define emotions from an early age.
2. Model Self-Awareness
When you talk about your feelings, it shows your children ways that they can talk about their feelings.
If your day has gone south and you feel frustration building, talk about it with your kids. “Mommy feels very frustrated right now and needs a time-out to calm down.”
Sit in the time-out chair if you need to, and do some deep breathing.
Likewise, talk about your positive emotions. “I feel happy when I hear the birds singing in the spring. They make such a joyful noise! What makes you feel happy?”Six hacks for helping your child increase her emotional intelligence. #EQ #emotionalintelligence #selfcare #parenting Click To Tweet
3. Emotions Are Like the Weather
Caiti Lopez, a speech therapist who works with Pre-K through 6th grade students—- teaches her clients to compare their feelings with the weather. The weather changes, and so do our feelings. She’ll ask questions such as, “What’s your weather inside?” to help students think about their emotions.
Lopez also uses “I notice” statements to open the conversation about feelings. “I notice your face is smiling. Do you feel happy?” or “I notice that your eyebrows are scrunched, do you feel mad?”
4. Make Space for Big Feelings
Cayenna Herrera, an educator and parent, has learned to make space for ‘big feelings.’ She’ll ask, “It looks like you are really having big feelings right now. Would you like to talk about it?”
It the child wants to open up, she’ll listen. If they don’t feel comfortable, she’ll ask them, “Would it be all right if I stay right here until you are ready to tell me what you are feeling and how I can help?”
According to Herrera, “That lets them know they aren’t alone, and I will wait until they are ready. It also tells them big feelings are normal and ok and it is how we handle them that counts.”
Give kids space for their big feelings, and don’t helicopter around them trying to ‘make it better.’
5. Use Shared Readings as a Springboard
Read picture books out loud to your children—not just for the story, but for the pictures. Talk about the characters and their expressions. Ask your child what they think the character may feel in that moment. Notice facial expressions of characters.
Remember not to assign value to the emotions. Don’t say, “Oh, Johnny looks angry. That’s bad.” Instead say, “Johnny looks angry. What do you think he should do?”
6. Teach Calming Techniques
Both Herrera and Lopez advocate teaching very young children calming techniques. Herrera found songs and inspiration from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Her daughter learned to sing different songs from the program to help calm herself.
Lopez teaches her students to box breathe. They hold one hand in front of their face and use the other to trace their upraised hand. As they trace up a finger they breathe in. As they trace down a finger they breathe out. She also has the sniff flowers or blow on something to help them develop awareness of their breathing.
7. Try one of These Activities
- Lopez has students use play dough to form different faces, which they talk about.
- She also does an activity with paper plate faces (using a popsicle stick glued to the bottom) so that students can share their different emotions.
Don’t Lose the Opportunity
Talking about emotions in a matter-of-fact voice and helping your child understand that emotions come with life will start them on the road to emotional self-awareness.
When the principal called me in to his office to talk to me about Laura, I felt incredulous that our happy-go-lucky daughter would feel bad enough to call a suicide hotline. I thanked him for his concern, and promised that I’d keep an eye out on Laura and talk to her if I felt it appropriate.
I never did talk to her about the incident (until I started writing this post). Turns out she has no memory of ever calling a suicide hotline. I did carry through with my promise to the principal, though—which alerted me to other emotions Laura struggled with. When she needed help with those a year later, I knew what to do—call a counselor.
Don’t kick yourself for not knowing, but do jump in and learn all you can about self-awareness and emotional intelligence. You can still set a good example for your children—even if they have children of their own.