Our knowledge around the way we parent and the impact that has on our children's mental health and wellbeing has grown rapidly in recent years. Thanks to advances in the world of psychology, we have a greater collective understanding of how our own emotional intelligence effects our children. Research shows that parents who have a greater depth of self awareness and an ability to emotionally regulate themselves are more likely to raise emotionally intelligent children.
During my own learning and personal growth, prompted by becoming a parent, I've discovered that it's crucial to perceive parenting as a relationship rather than a job to do. The connection we have with our children, I believe, is the channel through which we can embed the foundations they need for a life of emotional health and happiness.
Here's my favourite quotes to inspire a parenting approach that places connection at it's heart!
How we feel about our kids isn't as important as how they experience those feelings and how they regard the way we treat them.
A strong emotional connection to at least one adult is the best buffer from trauma that we can give our children.
The parent-child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to humanity.
~Bessel Van Der Kolk~
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.
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Having this conversation means your child is prompted to explore the type of person he/she wants to spend time with and be close to, rather than 'following the crowd' or building a friendship simply because they sit next to someone.
What is a good way to start talking to someone new?
Preparing our kids with social skills that make friendship building a little less awkward is crucial. Many children, especially introverts, those with social anxieties or lacking confidence will find it useful to have planned ahead of time when it comes to breaking the ice and making a new friend! It's a great way to start a conversation about first impressions and also break down the negative beliefs that can form around starting conversations with new people. Many kids believe they can't start a conversation, or that the new person won't want to speak to them. The reality is in new situations we're usually all a bit nervous and will be glad to have someone talk to us!
What can you do to stay calm when you disagree with a friend?
Again, a good pre-emptive question to open a conversation about regulation skills in challenging moments. If your child is older, you might even go on to explore the concept of perception and how each of us can see the same situation a slightly different way. Empathy is an important part of relationships.
It can be easy for children to think negatively in these scenarios so why not get ahead and start teaching them that someone else's achievement doesn't impact their own. We're all on our own path and will get there in our own time. A kind 'well done' will make a friend feel good and your child can channel their envy into some extra effort and achieve themselves which makes an all round win win!
What might a friend have been feeling that lead to them doing that?
Ah, possibly the most important question to help children navigate friendships. Kids can do things that hurt our children's feelings and our mama bear can rise up into fierce protective mode. But, aside from bullying, which is an entirely different issue to handle, usually children do things or say unkind things because they are struggling or overwhelmed. This question does two things. It develops empathy, helping your child understand that their friend was probably having a hard time. But secondly, it helps them develop resilience. Knowing someone else's behaviour isn't about us is super empowering! It helps us stay emotionally grounded and bounce back from things that could otherwise lead to our own emotional dysregulation. It takes time, but I've done this for so long with my 11 year old that she is generally able to ground herself during stormy friendship moments because she can now look beyond the behaviour. It doesn't take away the hurt of a friendship fall out but it can most certainly lessen the impact.
Try having these 6 conversations and watch your child develop their emotional intelligence!
My child's first day of High School made me feel like an awkward teenager again and why I'm at peace with the discomfort.
My child started secondary school. All Summer there's been excitement and countdowns, ending with the normal butterflies in the stomach in the final days of the holidays, before the big moment arrived. I'd prepared her, ironed her uniform, filled her shiny new pencil case with biros and batted away most 'what if' questions like a seasoned parenting pro. But what I wasn't prepared for, was the rearing of all my teenage high school trauma. It hit me out of the blue when tears fell from eyes after a long, overwhelming first day. What she experienced in those first 'rabbit in the headlights' days was normal. No one was mean to her. Nothing terrible happened. She even enjoyed much of it. Her highly sensitive soul simply needed to release built up emotions and process so much change in this huge milestone moment. But suddenly, whilst holding her, I stepped into the shoes of my awkward tween self and was flooded with feelings of self doubt, intense self consciousness and high anxiety. I remember the fear like it was yesterday and my heart broke. I thought it was for her. It wasn't. My heart broke for my teenage self.
To be at our best for our children, and support their experiences through their lens takes intuitive reflection and a level of self awareness. When we become emotionally reactive to our children's experiences it's helpful to ask ourselves why and be brave enough to go there. Even just being aware of why is an important and substantial step in itself. So, as I coach her through this challenging rite of passage, I'm also coaching my inner teenage self. These are some of the steps I'm taking:
As Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, do better." So it's OK. My early secondary journey felt difficult, but I'm at peace with that because the journey led to here. Today, where I'm parenting differently for my daughter. Where I've been guiding and teaching her for years so that she is far braver, stronger and more resilient than I was at this point in my own life. It led to now, where we're parenting a generation that will know themselves and what to do when challenges arise.
Anger can be productive. It can help us take action but the surge of energy can also be misplaced, especially when we aren't aware of our triggers or don't understand them.
We can support our children with anger by knowing what the most common anger triggers are. Taking a pause to assess the circumstances can give you the perspective you need to spot your child's trigger and understand what is charging up their angry energy. Most common triggers are:
These are all normal reasons for feeling angry! And anger isn't an emotion to bury away completely. We need to feel all emotions. When we know what is triggering the anger, it's easier to find a supportive strategy. For example, if you know your child is angry because they feel a sense of injustice, you can help them take action. Or you can show empathy at the injustice, even if you can't change it.
Teaching our children to recognise anger and how to respond appropriately is key to emotional health, but at a young age they need our help to scaffold this process. Strategies for supporting children with anger include emotional education (teaching them what is happening in the brain), teaching them how to recognise anger before responses become difficult to manage and coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms include calming tools to soothe the nervous system, as well as ways of processing the emotion such as drawing, writing or using up the energy. Finally, connection with your child is a crucial element of support. Showing understanding and empathy calms the nervous system, whilst also developing your bond. Despite the intensity that comes with your child's anger, empathy and connection is a win win and your greatest tool as a parent.
These questions are super useful during times such as homework stress, school anxiety and friendship issues.
7 Questions to stay connection through stressful moments!
1. What is difficult for you?
2. How can I help?
3. If you had one wish to use right now, what would you wish for?
4.If you had unlimited powers, what one would you use now and what would you use it for?
5. I I did (insert solution) or (insert a different solution), which would work best for you?
6. How would you like to feel?
7. What can we do to get through this together?
These questions provide a variety of outcomes, such as helping your child identify what the problem is, creative thinking by encouraging problem solving solutions and helping them identify what they would like to feel instead which gives them a focus for moving forward. The questions also support your connection by helping your child feel heard and showing them that you empathise. Together they all help your child move through their emotional brain into their thinking brain, which is key to their overall emotional intelligence development.
We can help our children discover their inner superpowers and see themselves in a positive light. There's a few things that every superhero has: resilience, acceptance of self, a passion or purpose and growth mindset. Here's 6 easy to implement ways you can support your child to find their power within:
Enjoy the confidence you see your child find, when you guide them to discover to their inner powers.
Ink and Scribbles Founder
1. Model Confidence
Our children look to us as an example of how to think and act. As parents we have real influence over the minds of our little people, who often absorb our beliefs and values in childhood and take them through into their adult life.
Showing belief in your child also helps them have self confidence. Children read between the lines and even though we might not say we're feeling nervous for them, they can interpret our non verbal communication as a vote of no confidence. For some children, this can have a real impact on their emotional development so even if you're worried about them having a go at something new, don't show it! Or a the very least be very clear that your own emotions are not about them. Because often they aren't! We might be worried about our child starting a new extra curricular activity, for example. But our emotional response is a reaction to our own trigger, such as fear of rejection or the intensity that we feel empathy etc, rather than our belief in our child's ability.
2. Accept Mistakes
Try and react gently to mistakes. I really resonate with this one. As a child, I took adult reactions to my mistakes very personally and they formed my perception of myself for a long time. Getting things wrong became a real fear of mine, leading to perfectionism in many areas of my life and being a people pleaser. Encouraging our children to learn from mistakes reduces the fear to try new things, keeps their inner critic in check and helps self talk stay positive and encouraging.
3. Create and explore new experiences
Helping your child to push their comfort zone teaches them that they can do hard things and still be OK! Our instinct as parents is to protect our children, but this can become detrimental if we constantly keep them in their comfort zone. If your child shows an interest in challenging themselves, you can help them make achieve small goals to prepare for it, rather than hold them back from it entirely because the main goal seems too big. This will also demonstrate to your child that you believe in them, nurturing their self esteem. Holding our children back from new experiences tells them to fear hard things, but what we actually want them to know is that as long as they are safe, they can do hard things and come out the other side.
4. Be OK with allowing some failure
We've already touched upon overprotection being potentially disempowering, and this one adds to this message. Again, our protective instinct can kick in and we can have a powerful urge to fix things for our kids. This is especially true when we see them hurting. But there is another path that is empowering, as well as supportive. When we see our children fail, we can give them the scaffolding they need to learn how to bounce back from those experiences. This builds resilience, a key trait for overall wellbeing and mental health. We can teach our kids that failing doesn't make them a failure. How much more confident would you have felt if you'd been given this message as a child?!
5. Focus on effort and perseverance
This supports our children in developing a growth mindset. Again, this builds resilience. But having a growth mindset will also mean our kids are accepting of themselves and don't value who they are based on things such as grades. Instead, they value effort and know that they can always improve and learn more. In fact, knowing this means they have increased confidence because they understand the control they have over their ability to achieve.
6. Teach them how to goal set.
Goal setting shows our children that they can make small steps towards a bigger goal. Often, we lack confidence because the big goal feels out of reach. It's overwhelming to stand at point A and expect to reach point D without passing point B and C! This means our inner critic turns up with sentences that begin with 'I can't, which is clearly a confidence knock. Planning the steps and achieving the smaller goals increases confidence and gives the knowledge that improvement will happen.
In this era, where mental health awareness is on everyone’s radar, there seems to be a real focus in the parenting world to “make” our children happy. For many parents, this urge to keep our children happy is a driven by our own discomfort and fear. With rising mental health problems amongst children and adults, it’s no wonder we are grabbing on to anything that we know will bring smiles to our favourite little people’s faces or stem the flow of tears.
But, how effective are our strategies to raise happy people? Are we giving them the tools to create their own inner happiness or are we promoting happiness as something experienced through the next emotional fix? We need to ask ourselves, are we setting our children up for long term inner contentment or short-term bursts of ecstasy? Realising that toxic positivity is now a thing, it’s time to ask ourselves how we can balance nurturing positive mindsets whilst accepting happiness isn’t something we can achieve consistently. It’s normal to experience a range of emotions.
We’ve done the research for you and put together 10 things that you can do to help raise happy children and future adults!
ACCEPT ALL FEELINGS
Choose to create a home environment that accepts all feelings. Our children need to know that emotions fluctuate between comfortable ones and uncomfortable ones! Despite being well intended, our approach to our child’s uncomfortable feelings can create a subconscious belief that they should feel happy which in turn can create feelings of shame or guilt around emotions such as anger, sadness, embarrassment etc. There’s an important distinction between accepting behaviour and accepting feelings and it’s important to find the middle ground, so that children understand that happiness is not destination to arrive at.
Resilience is the natural progression from accepting all feelings. If we can support the development of resilience, our children will be able to bounce back from failure, hurt, upset and anything that challenges them. Life isn’t always fair and there are always going to be things that happen that are outside of our control. Being able to ‘brush’ themselves off after a setback is key to building inner contentment. There are several ways to go about supporting resilience including teaching coping strategies, but conversations that develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence are also crucial. Children who know themselves well, understand their likes and dislikes and have a growing knowledge of how the brain works, will feel more empowered.
Growth Mindset is a resilience building, coping strategy but also a way of living life! If we can support our children to develop a growth mindset, especially in areas of life that challenge them (for example, a school subject they find hard or a hobby they want to make progress with) we can gift them with the attitude they need achieve things that make them feel good, boosting their self-esteem and confidence.
There’s been much research into the effect of gratitude, showing that it can change the brain making a more positive mindset. Gratitude practise can become part of your family life, helping your child understand that they can find good things in bad days!
Kindness doesn’t just make other people feel good! Being kind feels good for us to as it leads to the release of chemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, which contribute to wellbeing. Being kind gives children something to be proud of which contributes to their self-worth. Kindness is a natural default for humans (it’s usually when our thoughts impact our emotions and behaviours that we see unkind behaviour, not an unkind person), so encouraging your child to show kindness promotes happiness. Self-kindness is also important. Being able to forgive themselves, soothe themselves and look after their wellbeing will mean our children will know how to ensure the release of those chemicals for themselves.
Our world has become so busy and distracting. Finding mindfulness activities that suit your child (it isn’t all about meditating), will encourage them to be present in the moment and with their thoughts. Mindfulness activities for kids could include nature, body movements such as yoga or activities such as art, craft or colouring. With high levels of screen time, carving out mindful moments has become important.
As for everyone, exercise supports health and also emotional wellbeing. For children the benefits of exercise include the release of serotonin (one of the brains well-being chemicals), improved mood, improved confidence, increased body positivity and it can break negative thinking through distraction and socialising.
Research shows that good sleep has a strong correlation with happiness. Lack of sleep activates the amygdala and impacts regulation skills, which in turn can lead to decreased self-worth because of how they feel about themselves because of the way they behaved, as well as how the consequences of it impact them. A bad night’s sleep can be the start of a vicious circle, where tiredness impacts decision making and impulse control, followed by the forming or consolidation of subconscious beliefs that can be formed by the outcomes of behaviour, such as punishments, tension between them and others etc. Which in turn then leads to a repeat of the cycle.
Good nutrition is clearly linked to overall health and increased wellbeing. High sugar diets tend to lead to energy peaks and troughs that can impact children’s mood. Our busy lifestyles can make it easy to slide off track with healthy eating, so it’s helpful to undertake regular check ins to keep your family values for health accountable.
A super simple, but effective technique to shift the way your child feels instantly. Emotion is held physically. We feel it in our bodies, hence the butterflies in our belly when we are nervous or the tight burning in our chest when we are angry etc. If your child is feeling unhappy, unconfident or nervous, get them to hold their head up, push their shoulders back and stand tall. Talk about the small but significant shift in how they feel.
And a little extra tip … release the idea that your child’s happiness is your responsibility. You don’t have to make your child happy. This means you can release the pressure to take away difficult emotions, or place importance on material things to make them feel better. What is your responsibility is laying the foundations and building the scaffolding which nurtures their emotional intelligence and teaches them to know how to be happy. This is subtly different from their happiness being your responsibility. Our children are small, but they are individuals who will grow up to be living a life beyond us. As our children grow up, our aim is to be able to remove the scaffolding a bit at a time, revealing a stable, resilient and happy person.
Emotion coaching is process by which we can support our child's emotional intelligence. It's a fabulous parenting tool with proven benefits for emotional health.
Emotion Coaching isn't magic wand! It takes time to see the results and effort from parents to implement. However, working on our personal development and growing as a parent so that we can become our children's emotion coaches brings huge positive outcomes for the whole family. Not only do we heal and become happier, but our children are more likely to be successful, resilient and emotionally intelligent individuals. Furthermore, our connection with our children is stronger and our relationships benefits.
If you find this is the case, you can choose to work on responding over reaction and learn to be an active listener. It's perfectly OK to find this hard because you probably weren't taught how when you were a child! If you're interested in learning more you can discover how to implement emotion coaching in more detail through our downloadable 35 page Emotion Coaching Parenting Workbook, which you can find in the For Mama shop.
This week marks Children's Mental Health Week, an awareness week organised by mental health charity Place2be. The theme is Express Yourself, which is such a great theme and easy to explore at home with your own children. Supporting our children to express themselves involves both implementing parenting strategies and developing an awareness around why it's an important area of emotional health.
Emotional Expression is key to emotional health and yet traditionally, children's voices have been quietened when it comes to showing their feelings. Generational patterns have created adults who feel discomfort when confronted with an overwhelmed child, though things are changing rapidly in the modern parenting world. Many of us are more aware of the importance of emotional health and are trying to break those old patterns. But, it's tough. Even though we KNOW emotional expression is important, holding space for it can be HARD! The crucial thing here is to know why it's important, which will support empathy and how to approach it in a balanced way which works for parent as well as child.
When we allow our children to express themselves emotionally, we support their brains to process emotions, make sense of them and prevent them becoming "stuck" in their feelings. Unprocessed feelings can become suppressed and rear themselves throughout our lives when we are triggered. Ironically, it's those unprocessed and unexpressed feelings from our own childhood (because they were suppressed by parenting approaches) that are triggered by our own children's big emotions and can cause the cycle to repeat.
So, how can we work on making the changes to allow emotional expression? Well, first of all it takes a parenting mindset shift. All feelings are OK. Secondly, it needs a realistic expectation of how emotional expression should look in your household. The younger the child, the more understanding and support they will need around their ability to regulate themselves when expressing their emotions. It also means being kind to yourself; you're human and it won't always be easy to hold space for the big feelings of a dysregulated child! Finally, it takes regular role modelling of emotional expression and implementing activities into your family life that encourage children to creatively express themselves, releasing feelings and promoting communication with you.
Here's a few ideas for ways you can encourage your child to express themselves. You can download this prompt sheet for free! Just click on the image.
It's important to recognise that holding space for emotional expression does not mean condoning unacceptable behaviours. Over time you can guide your child to express themselves in healthy ways. These phrases will encourage your child to open up and talk about how they feel:
We've got some great resources for young children that will encourage them to express themselves and open up conversations about how they feel in our shop. Click here to see our range!
Hey! I'm the founder, creator and voice of Ink and Scribbles. Sharing thoughts on child well-being and parenting that are based on my teaching and parenting experience, and NLP learning.