As parents, we don’t want to see our kids unhappy. Whether it’s over the loss of a pet or a broken toy, we want to make it better for them, fast.
But this is where many parents get it wrong. When we help children feel happy again as quickly as possible, although it may provide immediate relief for everyone involved, it won’t help the child in the long run.
In order to build a foundation for lifelong success, it is important to not only soothe your child, but to also help them learn how to navigate their own emotional world.
Research shows that when teachers help preschoolers learn to manage their feelings in the classroom, the children become better problem solvers when faced with challenging emotional situations, and are better able to engage in learning. In teenage years, “emotional intelligence,” which is the ability to recognize and manage emotions, and is associated with an increased ability to cope with stressful situations and higher self-esteem.
As parents and teachers, we need to be aware of how we role-model emotional intelligence.
Emotional skills, such as resilience, can be learned. Depending on the age of your child, a balance of soothing them and allowing them to fully experience the emotion, gives them the opportunity to come into contact with their own resilience.
As parents and teachers, it is part of our job to soothe children during overwhelming emotions, but it also our job to teach them how to feel them, label them it, and let it go.
The following are four steps to follow when working with your child during an emotional upheaval:
1. Feel it. Don’t push away the negative emotions. Validate your child’s experience as a sentient person with his or her own emotional world.
2. Show it. Allow the full expression of the emotion.
3. Label it. This is a critical skill set for children. It is important to recognize stress versus anger or disappointment, for instance. Help your child detect and discriminate how they are feeling.
4. Watch it go. Help your child recognize the impermanence of his or her emotions. Even the hardest emotions are transient and we are bigger than they are. It is also helpful to show your child that we don’t always have the same emotion every time we have a similar experience. We might feel anxiety at one party or in one class but feel entirely different the next time.
Finally, we can help our child plan for the next time they will experience a strong emotion. You can ask your child about their experience if they are old enough to tell you about it. However, if they are very young it can be useful to use play to examine what happened.
Children feel stronger and more empowered when they learn that it is ok to feel, while knowing that it also won’t last forever.