Parenting is hard work. One thing that can help to make it a little easier to raise emotionally healthy children is to teach them to express their feelings. The trouble is many parents were not raised by families who exemplified this type of behavior. How can parents promote healthy communication of feelings if they did not learn it themselves?
One way to teach yourself and your kids to process emotions
The Whole Brain Child- by Dr. Dan Seigel & Tina Bryson, is a great text for educating parents.
In this helpful book, the authors show parents how to recognize what children need by understanding what is taking place in their minds. They offer 12 strategies parents can use to help children acquire skill in processing their emotions in a healthy way. The key is brain integration. Here are a few helpful parenting tips from the book:
1.Discipline is more than correction
How we treat kids socially and emotionally can impact them positively or negatively. Use the time when a child misbehaves as a teachable moment.
“Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioral consequences.”- Dr. Seigel
2.Model emotional health by working on yourself
Children learn by example. How do you handle yourself when you are upset or discouraged? Start to notice your thoughts and actions. If there is an issue, take the time to work it out. If you are unable to do it yourself, seek the help of a professional.
“When parents don’t take responsibility for their own unfinished business, they miss an opportunity not only to become better parents but also to continue their own development. People who remain in the dark about the origins of their behaviors and intense emotional responses are unaware of their unresolved issues and the parental ambivalence they create.”- Dr. Seigel
3.Teach your children how to be mindful of their emotions & what is happening in their brain
Dr. Seigel suggests showing your child how the brain works so they can then begin to understand what is happening when they get upset. He also teaches a concept called “mindsight” that parents can also use on themselves. This concept creates a visual image of your thoughts and helps you to recognize if you are stuck on any certain area. If you are stuck, he also gives a basic explanation as to how you can refocus your thoughts to become unstuck. (For a cool visual aid using cauliflower, ginger root, toothpicks and two olives, go to www.crossroads.net/media for 01/06/19).
“As children develop, their brains “mirror” their parent’s brain. In other words, the parent’s own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child’s brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well. That means that integrating and cultivating your own brain is one of the most loving and generous gifts you can give your children.” – Dr. Seigel
Another helpful book is The Optimistic Child– Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, who is the
go to person of the Positive Psychology Movement.
Dr. Seligman teaches parents how to reframe their perspectives so they, in turn, can raise more optimistic children. He provides tactics and examples on how to empower your children’s thoughts, so they can be more resilient in every opportunity. He explains that optimism is not exclusive to those who are born with it, but it is a skill that anyone can learn. Here are some of his tips:
- Cut out the negative self-talk and thoughts
How we criticize ourselves as parents can transfer over to our kids. If we can learn to love our successes and grow from our failures, we can teach our kids to do the same. Practice recognizing negative thoughts quickly to then reframe them to be more positive. For example, if it is raining outside you could think “It is so gross outside I do not feel like doing anything “or you could reframe by sayingg “Since it is raining outside I will be able to get a few things done around the house.” Try not to use negative labels. For example, if your kid is being whiney you do not want shame them by calling it out. Instead you could say “ Let’s use a more grown-up tone when we talk with one another.”
“Changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience the setbacks that life deals all of us is the central skill of optimism”- Dr. Seligman
2. Do not only point out wrong behavior
It can be easy to always point out when your child is doing wrong. Pointing out their positive behaviors is much more effective in reinforcing change. Research shows behavior that is rewarded is likely to repeat itself. Try not to be general in your recognition. Be specific as to what they are doing that is good.
“When we take time to notice the things that go right – it means we’re getting a lot of little rewards throughout the day.”- Dr. Seligman
3. Do not set up false expectations
Some parents feel a need to protect their child from the pain that can come from failure. Yet when you teach your children to embrace reality, you show them how to shape their perspective about what happens. Be authentic. False praise may lead to pessimism as children may perceive the insincerity of their parents. Maybe your child did not do well in their little league game. Instead of telling them a general ‘Atta, girl” statement, you can point out how they used their strengths. Later, if they seem open to it, you can ask if they would like to practice with you in the yard or park.
“We deprive our children, our charges, of persistence. What I am trying to say is that we need to fail, children need to fail, we need to feel sad, anxious and anguished. If we impulsively protect ourselves and our children, as the feel-good movement suggests, we deprive them of learning-persistence skills.” – Dr. Seligman
Parenting is an exciting never-ending educational journey for yourself and your children. If you’re looking for more parent or mental well-being help be sure to check out our resources page.