How can parents help with their child’s social- emotional growth?
We all want our children to thrive socially and emotionally, however that is easier said than done.
Here are some tips from Linda Stade and her article “Raising Whole Humans” (Oct 2020).
1. Sit with discomfort…yours and your child’s
Emotions aren’t good or bad, they are comfortable or uncomfortable. Emotions are physical experiences. For example, anxiety is a high-energy uncomfortable feeling. The heat it generates, the rise in pulse and adrenaline all enable us to take physical action if required, but it feels awful.
When we are able to recognise and sit with the emotion it will pass through us and end. No feeling lasts forever. If we deny the feeling or push it down, it will fight to be recognised. As parents, we also have to sit with the discomfort of seeing a child we love and want to protect feeling bad. It’s not easy! We can support them, but we can’t take these perfectly human experiences away from them. These are important growth moments.
Tune in to your child. While you can’t take feelings away, you can be supportive. You can acknowledge that this feeling is uncomfortable or ‘yucky’ and that we all feel like this sometimes. It’s human and they are not alone.
3. Give them broad emotional language
For all the language we give children, most have a surprisingly small emotional vocabulary. Give kids words to describe feelings from a young age. Don’t be worried about big words. If a five-year-old can name 18 different types of dinosaur, they can use words like ‘frustration’ and ‘furious’. Research tells us that the broader a child’s emotional vocabulary, the greater their chance of understanding their own emotions
4. Reflect on the experience when they are calm.
Help your child look back on the experience and try to understand it more - what were the triggers? What were they thinking about? What did they do? What can they learn from it? You will need to base the questions on their developmental age and what they can cope with.
5. Accept and allow feelings
We need to cultivate from a young age the understanding that we are a safe space for our kids. They should be able to share their vulnerable feelings without the fear of us telling them to ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘don’t be silly’. All feelings are valid.
Even though all feelings are valid, all behaviours are not. We can coach kids to express emotion but never to damage themselves or others in the process. This can be difficult for a child in the grip of strong, uncomfortable emotion. They need us to be calm, empathise, and diffuse, not throw in more grenades. Don’t buy into the emotion, defuse it.
7. Problem solve
Problem-solving requires a cool head. It may take hours or days for your child to reach a point where they can talk to you logically about the next steps. That’s okay. Try not to give them solutions, help them to problem-solve themselves. Even if they only get a little way towards solving their own problem, it’s a start.
It is likely your child will need a lot of encouragement, as they may already be feeling disempowered. They will also be wary of sounding silly. This is your chance to build them up and show your faith in them. Don’t be afraid to give examples from your own experiences. It will help your child to know you’re a work in progress too.