Raising Emotionally Healthy KidsMar 24, 2022
Are you concerned about the emotional health of your kids? This week my daughter shared that over 100 students have been hospitalized at her high school for mental health this year. That’s just one school. I can’t even fathom what that means on a nationwide basis.
Hearing about this mental health crisis with our kids, have you ever wondered if there is anything that you can do to help raise your kids to be emotionally strong and resilient?
I’m happy to share that there is actually quite a bit that you can do — and it starts with increasing your own emotional vocabulary and understanding.
Chances are that no one taught you about feelings — what they are, where they come from, or how to deal with them. Even if you had great parents, most of us are dealing with our own emotional baggage based on our childhood experiences because our parents didn’t know either. No one taught them. But this is no blame-game, we all did the best that we could with the knowledge we had at the time. Me included!
Just so we’re all on the same page — let’s start with what feelings are. The actual definition of feeling is a generalized body consciousness or sensation — they are vibrations in our body, or energy in motion (emotion). Whereas thoughts are the language of your brain, feelings and emotions are the language of your body.
Have you ever experienced a time where you were so angry that you were shaking? Or a time that you were so excited you had a hard time sitting still? That was the vibration and energy moving around in your body. Because they were stronger emotions, the vibration was strong enough to cause your body to move.
I grew up believing that my feelings were based on what was going on in my life — outside circumstances and events. So if I was experiencing negative emotions, I looked outside of myself for the cause of my feelings, attempting to figure out what had to change for me to feel better.
Did you grow up believing this too? Many people did.
Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Outside circumstances and events do not create our feelings — our thoughts do. We don’t feel anything until we have a thought or assign meaning to that circumstance or event.
Let me give you an example:
Your child comes home with a “C” on a test.
Realize that this might evoke different feelings in different parents, based on what they are thinking. If your child is typically an A student, you might feel concerned or upset. If your child had been getting D’s and F’s, you might feel happy or excited.
You think that your feelings are based on the “C” test score, but that circumstance is actually neutral until you had a thought about it — and the two parents had very different thoughts.
If you’re the parent of the A student, you might have thought my child rushed to go out with friends and didn’t study hard enough. That thought made you feel concerned or upset. If you’re the parent of the D student, you might have thought that’s awesome, and be so happy your child is improving. That thought made you feel excited.
Either way, recognize that it’s your thoughts about the test grade that create your feelings — and the best part is that your thoughts are optional. Did you know that? You can actually choose your thoughts, and this is where all of your power lies.
The first step to increasing your own emotional vocabulary and understanding is to pay attention to what it is that you’re feeling, and what specific thought is causing you to feel that way. Work on identifying the neutral fact versus your thought about it. For example, the parent that is upset about the “C” might ask what am I thinking about the test grade that is making me feel upset? It all starts with increasing your awareness.
As for your child, remember that emotions are simply vibrations or sensations in their bodies. As children experience different feelings, they might be having sensations in their bodies and not know what they are. The part of your child’s brain that controls their emotions as well as their ability to communicate is under construction — so on top of not understanding the sensations they are experiencing in their body, they are not likely to be able to communicate what they are feeling and why.
You can help your child increase their own awareness and emotional vocabulary by simply observing and acknowledging how they are feeling, and putting it into words for them. The point is to help them feel heard and listened to, as well as to help them develop the vocabulary and language to be able to express their feelings.
It can be really frustrating when your brother wants to play with you when you’re building with your legos.
You really wanted to go to the playground today, how disappointing.
Once you’ve made the statement, stop speaking! Give your child space to respond. It may seem like a long time, but work on being patient. Your child needs time to process, and ideally move from their lower primal brain to their thinking brain. Their ability to name the emotion and describe how they are feeling is actually the first step to help them feel better.
One important thing to note, your ability to be present and help your children with their emotions is dependent upon your ability to manage your own emotions. When you are experiencing anxiety, frustration, overwhelm or any other host of heightened emotions, you are not able to calmly and effectively parent so you can help teach your child how to understand, manage and communicate their emotions.
If you want to simplify and speed up the process of learning how to manage your own emotions and communicate so you can help your children with theirs, learn how to Parent from Neutral. It’s the skill I teach parents in my New Generation Coaching Program. Parenting from Neutral is how we model and teach our kids to be stronger and more resilient so they can best handle the challenges that life throws at them.
I’m on a mission to help parents raise a new emotionally healthy generation, and based on what my daughter shared with me this week — the time is now, and we need this more than ever. If you are struggling, please reach out. You can learn more about me and my program at melpeirce.com. I’m here to help so you don’t have to go it alone.
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