When we talk about health we picture heart rate monitors, people jogging, broccoli florets and skipping ropes. Rarely do we think about our brains or ponder on our emotional health.
Even the ancient Romans knew that a healthy mind in a healthy body* was desirable for a happy life. So enabling our kids to understand their emotions early on will help foster ‘healthy minds’ as they grow up. And these complex minds are already developed at birth.
When we start life as tiny babies we carry a tiny backpack of thoughts and emotions to match. But as we travel from childhood to adulthood we end up needing a few heavy-duty suitcases to cart around all those emotions, memories and thought processes. We like to think the older we get, the more adept we become at baggage handling but there’s often a bit of lost luggage on the way or suitcases that simply remain locked and untouched. We may often suppress or hide our emotions from ourselves, other adults, and more importantly from our kids… This stiff upper lip attitude may come from a place of protection and care but psychologists tell us that avoiding difficulties won’t make them better and will often make them worse. They go on to say that “parents are very important in teaching kids through their own behaviour, their own actions and their own thinking, how to go about dealing with difficulties”. Our children may be born with different temperaments and genetic influences, but they learn how to act, think and feel from us, first and foremost. We are the primary influence on our kids. So if we’re open with our emotions, our child can learn to understand theirs.
Where to begin?
Getting your child to name all the emotions in their head is a great starting point. Some of these emotions will be positive and some will be negative. And that’s ok. Being able to identify anger, for example, allows your child to let it go easier. Remember the movie Inside Out? 11-year-old Riley moves away to a new city and we see her core emotions played out as characters in her head, trying to guide her through the change. ParentalEQ’s Wheel of Emotions works on a similar principle and is used as a guide to ‘meet’ or label your child’s emotions. There are 40 emotions to play with as you progress, but much like Inside Out, you start with some core emotions, (eight in this case), that can be positive or negative, calming or activating.
J, the mum to an 8-year-old girl with anxiety, embraced the Wheel. She had spent a lot of time trying to play the perfect mother, particularly when it came to her emotional wellbeing. There was never any need to discuss her own fears and worries because allowing her daughter to see her mother’s imperfect world would mean disappointment, sadness, and more anxiety. Or so she thought. By using the Wheel of Emotions alongside her daughter a huge weight was lifted. When she verbalised her own emotions, both negative and positive, her daughter was able to open up about hers and even created a box of labelled emotions. “I didn’t realise how much parents are role models”, J says, “in ways they realise and in ways they don’t”.
E, the mum to 6 and 8-year-old boys, experienced similar outcomes. She was surprised initially at her kids’ interest in talking openly about their fears and anxieties. She felt encouraged by the fact they were pleased to have an opportunity to discuss their feelings and listen to her worries too. By using the Wheel of Emotions, E was able to pinpoint the root causes of her boys’ anxiety and work through their issues.
We’ve come a long way since Roman times in how we actually nurture our emotional health but the end goal of healthy mind healthy body remains. If you, as a parent can demonstrate positive emotional health habits, your kids are likely to develop them in their own lives. And it’s important to remember that life isn’t black and white. Shades of grey are normal; we will experience a mixture of emotions, positive and negative at any given moment.
Emotional health is all about our children being able to understand their emotions and finding ways to deal with them. After all, ‘life isn’t about waiting for the storm to end, it’s about learning to dance in the rain’.*
If you’d like to understand your child’s emotions more, ParentalEQ’s Wheel of Emotions is a great way to start (you’ll find it in module 2).
We are ParentalEQ – a parenting platform to raise emotionally strong kids. To learn more, download our app in the App Store or Google Play here.
* Men sana in corpore sano – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mens_sana_in_corpore_sano
*Quote from author Vivian Greene – https://www.lifeeducation.org.au