How To Empower Your Child To Engage With Their Emotions

This is our third blog post on the subject of emotions and empathy. The reason for this because it is our belief that emotion management is fundamental to tackling bullying, as it is often emotional mismanagement that leads to someones inclination to lash out towards another person. If you would like to read our previous two blogs they are BECOMING AN EMPATHY MASTER and HOW TO RAISE AN EMPATHIC CHILD. In the latter of the two posts I mentioned a key element to developing an empathic child is to have them engage and understand their own emotions. The question is how do we empower our children to do this? This is what I would like to look at in this blog post.

First Study Your Child

Before you can do anything to help your child engage with their emotions you must be empathetic to them first. Remember, your child is navigating the world of emotions for the very first time, they are acting on instinct alone. Your role is going to be their sat-nav. You know your child better than anybody else. Even so, you have got to study your child notice how the react to specific things. Notice the moments lead up to them being happy, what are the cues you get from them, do the same with all the other emotions. Keep in mind there are no bad emotions, just bad responses to emotions. Studying your child will help you empathise more with them, and will help you be able to guide them in the future.

Remember, You Come Second

I realise that for most parents this is the case anyway, but here you need to make sure it is intentional. Empowering your child to engage with their emotions means that confusing things with your own can be dangerous. I’m not saying that you should never let your child know how you are feeling, far from it. I discuss the importance of this in the blog post about raising an empathic child. However I also discuss the importance of not allowing guilt to come in to the equation. To successfully explore their emotions a child must not be fearful that their reaction is going to upset somebody else. Just as it is not the emotion being bad, but the reaction, it is not the emotion that can hurt or upset somebody else, but the reaction. However for a child who is exploring and identifying their emotions they cannot differentiate between the two. If they see you getting upset because they have acted out, they might take it that you are angry at them for getting upset. This could then lead to your child bottling things up, or turning their emotions in on themselves leading to bigger reaction when it finally does explode. However, if a child is free to explore their emotions, and then take ownership over them — by which I mean understand that they are allowed to feel that way, then they will be ready to explore how other peoples emotions come into play.

Explore The Bad Behaviour

I’m repeating myself quite a bit here, but it is key to this whole thing. It is not the emotions that are bad, but the reaction. The reason I repeat it here is because we are now into the stage of managing the bad behaviour. It is very easy to slip into punishing the behaviour and leaving it at that. Part of exploring emotions, though, if you think about it is understanding why you react a certain way to a certain emotion. I’ve herd countless children retort to being punished with “but I was [fill in emotion here]” and that remark then goes ignored.

Can you see the problem with this? By ignoring this statement, you are devaluing the child’s emotions. Of course, I’m not saying leave the behaviour unpunished, but make sure the child understands it is the behaviour that is being punished and not the emotion. Once the punishment is over, talk with your child about what they were feeling, why they reacted the way they did. Explore with them alternative reactions they could try next time.

Troubleshoot

By this, I don’t mean shoot the troublemaker. You will end up in jail if you did that. No, what I mean is sit actively discuss and explore their emotions with them. The way you do this very much depends on your child as you need to do it in a way that engages them. If a child switches off at the thought of anything that resembles schoolwork, it probably isn’t the best idea to sit at your dining room table brainstorming. Equally, if your child is not much of a talker, trying to engage them in a deep and meaningful conversation may not be right either. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with children (which, incidentally are included in my list of best conversations I’ve had with anyone.) have occurred in a spur of the moment situation. For instance, I was looking after in the playground in the local park when she ran out to play in the freshly cut grass. I wandered out to play with her. Initially she was skeptical of my presence — I think a lot of the time adults would stay in the playground and keep an eye on her from there. — However, after a while she started talking to me about how she was feeling about certain things in life. We ended up having a touching heart-t-heart, and I was able to explore with her some of the emotions she couldn’t identify at the time. So, essentially if I hadn’t reached out to her then, she might still be grappling with some of those emotions now.