Our child’s ability to get along with others is something that often concerns us. From starting kindergarten through to beginning at a new school, we hope that they have the skills to solve social problems, and deal with conflicts such as fights, bullying and teasing. This emotional wellbeing requires a particular set of skills to meet these challenges. I’ve covered some these skills in individual articles before, but here I want to bring them to together 5 key skills that lead to benefits with your child’s emotional wellbeing.
Helping your child to navigate and better label their emotions is a valuable step to improve their emotional intelligence. How we define our feelings is a critical way to better explain and understand the message the emotion is giving us. What constitutes ‘hate’ or ‘love’ for one person will be different to the person opposite you at work, or beside you on your commute to work. Getting your child to understand their emotions helps them understand how another person feels.
“Language shapes our behaviour and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. The right words spoken in the right way can bring us love, money and respect, while the wrong words—or even the right words spoken in the wrong way—can lead to a country to war. We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition.”
—Dr. Andrew Newberg, Words Can Change Your Brain
Developing calming techniques is also critical to managing emotions (See Help Children Cope with Strong Emotions for suggestions).
Parents can also encourage emotional awareness by asking their child how they feel throughout the course of the day. It not only increases emotional awareness but shows them that you care about their feelings. Read 10 Parenting Hacks to Connect with your Child for other ways to connect with your child.
You can begin with, “happy, sad, angry, proud and frustrated”. Ask children “What makes you happy?”, “How do you feel when mum tells you she loves you?”. You can then build to other feeling words such as “worried, relieved, impatient, disappointed, jealous, embarrassed”. As you refine the meanings you are equipping them with the tools to better understand and communicate how they feel.
For example, when my youngest son was about 6 years old he’d often get frustrated by his older brother, usually storming off saying, “I hate him”. Whilst I’m pretty sure he was very frustrated with him, “hate” probably wasn’t an accurate statement of his feelings. But it was all that he had to describe the cauldron of feelings he had within him. Over time and by exploring his feelings he’s better able to express himself.
It’s important for children to realise that different people can feel differently about the same situation.
When children are aware and can discuss how different people feel, it opens their appreciation that what means one thing to them may mean something entirely different to someone else. Neither feelings are invalid, and it’s not about ruling one right or wrong what this is designed to emphasise is that they understand we all have differing reactions to the same stimulus.
“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.”
― George Eliot
You can come up with a scenario where two children are on a bus journey, one is happy the is other is sad. You can talk about what might be making them happy and other sad. Or, for example, you’re out and your child notices someone, a passerby or another child, take the opportunity to ask what they noticed; explore it further with what that person might be feeling.
In addition, if they’ve had a challenging day in class, you can talk about things that would have upset the teacher.
In coaching terms, you’re asking them to occupy a 2nd perceptual position, 2nd being that of the other person.
You might like to take a look at Children Talk: How to Help your Child Communicate Better to see a variation on seeing things from a different perspective.
Adaptive thinking with challenges is important to getting along with others. Fluidity in evaluating a situation is key in being open and available to understand motives and intents. Misinterpreting other people’s intentions, rigidly believing your own version of an event leads to worries, frustrations and stress.
“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing.”
― C.S. Lewis
Teach children to expand their internal maps of the world. This content reframing explores reasons why someone does what they do. The best way to do this is by asking the question, “What else?”. Create a hypothetical scenario and talk through all the other possible reasons that might explain why the person might act they way they did. For example, you can discuss the reasons why a friend may not reply when you say “Hello”. Perhaps they are angry? What else could be the reason?
It’s important to note that many children will provide reasons that mirror their own behaviours, making your involvement more critical so they can view other perspectives.
Asking children to come up with multiple solutions to problems helps them improve their problem solving skills. Usually children can think of one or two solutions, then ask them, “That’s one solution, can you think of any more?” Once you have a selection of solutions, ask how each one might make other people feel.
If you feel that this might bring on some anxiety or stress, use make believe scenarios and characters so that the focus is on the solutions and not the child.
All of the above are only part of developing and nurturing a child’s emotional wellbeing. It is just as important for them to appreciate their behaviours effect other people’s feelings.
Using a fictional example, you can talk about what feelings they might have. Then talk about what would happen next. Discuss a variety of things that might happen. Continue this exploring all the ripple effects of the event. How it might affect other people, family, friends or schools. If you feel you’ve exhausted that option, then go back and see if there was an alternative way of handling it. Repeat the process of exploring the ripple effects.
“We are free to choose our paths, but we can’t choose the consequences that come with them.”
― Sean Covey
Again, this is about simply talking through and appreciating the consequences of their actions that, whilst perhaps feeling justified at the time, have a negative impact on them and others. The questions you can ask are: ‘What would happen if you did…?’ Or, ‘What would happen after that?’
It’s important to differentiate between internal (feelings) and external (affect other people) consequences. Understanding internal consequences help children to realise that actions affect how other people feel.
For a step-by-step guide on understanding consequences, read Help Your Child Understand the Consequences of their Actions.