I’m thrilled today to invite a dear friend, Trish Rohani, MA MFT to be my guest blogger.
Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which one to surf. ~Jonatan Mårtensson
Want to give your child an edge in life? Would you like him to be able to achieve success in relationships, school, and work? According to John Gottman, Ph.D., “In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.”
Now that all sounds great but just how do we impart this emotional awareness and abilities you might ask. Let’s start with understanding that emotions are not right or wrong, they just are. Even anger, has gotten a bad rap. It is not the anger that is a problem, it’s how that anger is handled and expressed.
Research shows us that how parents relate to and interact with emotions has a great deal of effect on how children learn to maneuver through and regulate their emotions. It is important not only be in tune with one’s own emotions, but the emotions of others as well. An emotionally healthy person uses this knowledge to navigate relationships with others.
So how can we teach our children to develop and utilize that emotional awareness?
We can use a little acronym I made up. NAME. It stands for Notice, (become aware of, observe) name (identify, recognize) Articulate, (communicate, express,) Manage, (deal with, handle) Emotions. OK so maybe it’s not perfect, I know it has 2 n’s but it helps me!
Help your child notice and identify emotions by teaching emotion and feeling words.
Identify and name emotions, not only the emotions the child is having but help him to identify emotions in others. This will help your child develop empathy.
Help your child to express herself verbally. Children have all the emotions that adults do, yet they just don’t always know how to express them. This can lead to them acting out in inappropriate ways. Teach your child to communicate her emotions. Using I statements she can say, “When David yelled, I felt scared. When I walked into the dentist office, I felt nervous.”
Teach your child ways to handle these emotions. If he is anxious, he can learn to breathe deeply. Teach him to ask for help or take a deep breath and try again if he is frustrated or request a reassuring hug when feeling sad.
Use every opportunity to teach emotion identification and healthy ways of dealing with emotions. Use personal experiences, books, movies, etc. Recounting the happenings of the day or a family event can be a great opportunity to talk about emotions. “It seemed like you were mad…frustrated…scared… excited…happy…nervous when… I noticed this because, … your face got all red and scrunchy, your jaw seemed tight…your eyes lit up and you had a great big smile, your eyes got wide and … How did you feel when…? Make sure to leave time for your child to answer. That silence may feel awkward at first, but kids often need time to process and formulate their thoughts.
This all takes practice. Don’t worry if it seems awkward at first. You and your children will benefit from learning these skills. Stay tuned, a future post will cover practical ideas on how to teach these skills.
Trish Rohani is a marriage and family therapist in Oregon City, OR. She sees couples, families, and individuals, including children. Her special areas of interest include working with trauma, intercultural families, and right brained creative types.
Photo of crying girl: Arwen Abendstern