Life is stressful, no matter your age, and children don’t have as much experience in dealing with unpleasant emotions as adults do. How do we help them? We may not have the ability to eliminate these challenges, but we can teach kids how to understand and self-regulate the emotions they experience. We sat down with Dr. Emily Griese from Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, SD, to learn ways parents can encourage emotional development in their kids.
Consider Others’ Point of View. When you start promoting positive emotional health in youth, Griese says “Any activity that promotes perspective taking can be really important.” This can be embedded into many different games, such as Simon Says, Tag, or Follow the Leader. Children often absorb this information earlier than we may expect. At age six, kids have the ability to see that other people have different perspectives than they do. Around ages ten and eleven, they develop a sense of empathy.
Prompting perspective in children early on gives them the ability to take a step back. Rather than coping in inappropriate ways (i.e. eating unhealthy foods, acting out, etc.), it can help them understand their role in situations and how to better overcome challenges.
Communication is key. Misbehavior or temper tantrums can be difficult to navigate for parents. Use these challenges as a learning opportunity for both you and your child. After the incident, Griese recommends circling back to discuss with your child, in age-appropriate language:
- How they reacted
- What emotions they felt
- If they could have changed their response.
For instance if your child is upset, say something like, “I understand why you are upset, that was hard. Maybe next time, instead of throwing things down, we spend some time by ourselves, talk to someone else, or count to 10.” By doing this you validate your child’s feelings and emotions, but also teach them the proper techniques to manage their mood and calm down.
“For some kids, it’s easier to give them time to themselves first. After they are emotionally calmed down, some kids can overcome their emotions quicker.” Be sure to tailor how and when you talk through the situation to your child depending on their temperament. There is no set time on when to do this, just as long as they have calmed down, can think clearly, and the incident is recent in their memory.
Combining lessons that teach both perspective and communication is an important first step towards emotional development and managing your mood. Check out Part II of this series in which Dr. Griese discusses how children’s schedules affect their temperament and ways parents can follow through with vital lessons.