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Promoting Positive Emotional Health in Our Children

Are you wanting to promote positive emotional health in your children, but are not sure where to begin? A great starting place is to read the books by Daniel Siegel, No-Drama Discipline and The Whole Brain Child. Also, check out the women’s ministry YouTube page to watch the videos I recorded with the Women’s Ministry on parenting!

Emotional Health

Emotional health is a heavily discussed topic in today’s society. Some may think that it is talked about too much (and maybe it is); however, it is critical to foster this emotional health in our children. We want our children to grow up understanding their emotions. Being able to name their emotions. Recognizing and identifying their emotions. And, of course, being capable of regulating their emotions in a healthy way. As a parent, you have a huge part in teaching (and modeling) these skills to your children. 

I would encourage everyone to have at least one form of an emotions chart in their house. This can be in the form of a poster or even a pillow with the emotions on it. Utilize this emotions chart on a regular basis. Incorporate them into your dinner conversations, bedtime routine and breakfast conversations. Start and end the day by discussing what your emotions were for the day and ask everyone in the family at breakfast and dinner so that emotions are a part of your normal vocabulary. Model to your children how you are feeling (even the “negative emotions”) so that they know even adults have big emotions and that is healthy. 

The book No-Drama Discipline talks about the importance of how we as parents communicate with our children and the long-term impacts of how our communication style impacts them. Siegel talks about the importance of listening to the child and trying to implement effective discipline techniques compared to reacting, lecturing or constantly telling your child no. The idea of a “time-in” rather than a “time-out” has a more positive outcome for children to know that their behavior will not be tolerated but their emotions are valid. You are showing them that you love them while telling them that you will set boundaries and not allow them to engage in a certain behavior pattern, such as hitting their siblings. 

How do I teach my children to self-regulate their emotions?

One of the most important aspects of teaching your children to self-regulate is for you as the parent to be self-regulated and model the behavior. If both you and your child are dysregulated, it is a recipe for disaster. If you are able to remain calm even when you are frustrated and angry, then it helps your child be more calm when they feel their big emotions. 

Creating a “calm zone” with your children is a great way to help them learn to self-regulate. This is an area where they can go with stuffed animals, books and toys or sensory items where they are able to calm themselves down. Then when a child is having a hard time self-regulating their emotions you can give them choices that they can pick to help themselves calm down. The choice could be “you can have a time-in with mommy on the couch, go to your calm-zone or take a few deep breaths with mommy.” The child is able to pick one of the options and learn how to calm themselves down. This is such a great life skill for them to develop and provides benefit to you as the parent. If they are having trouble picking you can say “I will give you three seconds to pick one of the choices or else mommy will help you pick one.” 

Inside the Child’s Brain

When you think of your children’s brain, think of it as being under construction. The brain is developing throughout infancy and childhood but it is not fully formed. When we are disciplining our children we want to focus on engaging the upstairs brain. This is the part of the brain that focuses on emotion control, decision-making, logic, self-compassion. What often happens when parents discipline their children, the discipline is triggering the downstairs brain which is where the amygdala is and it is causing the flight, fight or freeze response. When we discipline with threats, the downstairs brain reacts because they see a perceived threat. An example of this would be “Calm down now.” The downstairs brain thinks of this as a threat and goes into flight, fight or freeze and cue a tantrum or hitting you. If you engage the upstairs brain instead and say “It is hard isn’t it? Can you tell me about it?” You are validating the emotion and allowing the child to be able to express their emotions. This leads to long-lasting positive effects on how they respond to situations in the future. 

The brain is changeable. This means that it is molded and changed in response to experiences; often referred to as neuroplasticity. This is a good thing for parents (and children)! Your children’s brains physically change based on behavioral inputs. Everything children see, feel, touch or hear impacts their brain and the way they view the world. This means that the more repetition of boundaries and expectations that you as a parent implement, the more their brains will respond to these boundaries and expectations because this is strengthening the connection of neurons.

The long-lasting effects are critical as the “upstairs brain” does not fully form until someone is in their mid-twenties! This is one of the main reasons to set boundaries with your kids and help them understand what the expectations are of them. Their brain simply does not know what it is doing so if you set clear boundaries and expectations of them, your children will know what they are supposed to do and what is acceptable. This is helping the upstairs brain develop in a healthy way. This helps our children with their decision making as their brains are not fully capable of doing this by itself yet! 

If you want more information on parenting or need to reach out for counseling contact the Counseling Center at BCC.