More and more schools are teaching SEL, social emotional learning, which is great. Home is still the best place for this education to begin. Children don’t start school until they are four or five. In those first years, we can teach them to recognize what they feel and how to manage it.
Ways we can help our children learn emotional skills:
1 Talk about feelings. Help them identify their feelings. When they are babies we can say, “You look sad.” Tell them how they look, “You stopped playing, are looking down, and frowning. “Continue this practice until they are able to name their feelings. Discuss how they feel when they are upset, angry, happy, scared. Eventually they may even point out our own feelings to us, which bring us to the next point.
2. One of the best ways to teach kids about feelings is to recognize our own. Whether we like it or not we are always on stage and our children are always watching and learning. When they see us managing our emotions, frustration, anger, disappointment, even happiness, it gives them a model to know how to manage theirs.
3. Equally important is not to deny our feelings. It can confuse children when we say we are fine when our body language and vocabulary shouts we are not. This may teach children not to be honest about how they feel, or they may assume the only emotions they are allowed to feel are positive ones.
3. This brings up the next point. Don’t confuse children by telling them they aren’t feeling what they are feeling. For example telling them they aren’t sad when they are. This may bewilder them and cause them to doubt their own judgement or to assume they can only have positive feelings. Everyone has a right to what they feel.
4. Teach them they are not their feelings. Happiness, joy, anger, etc. are emotional states. Instead of saying “I am mad.” Encourage them to say “I feel mad.”
5. Help them understand they are responsible for how they feel. No one else can make them feel angry, frustrated, happy, etc. Explain the difference between “You make me mad when—“ and “I feel mad when—“
6. Similarly, teach them feeling an emotion doesn’t mean they can act on it. For example, they are entitled to feel mad and are responsible for what they do when they are. Being hurt and becoming angry doesn’t give them the right to hurt anyone else.
7. Let them know that feelings are temporary like the Kansas weather: They can change frequently and rapidly.
8. Finally, we can apologize when we mess up. This lets them know that everyone makes mistakes and what to do when they make them.
One of my cherished memories with my dad was after one of our arguments. I was helping him on the farm when I broke the tractor. He couldn’t finish his work without it and was angry. That triggered my sense of injustice. I was doing my best, and didn’t mean to brake it. I fumed to my room, slammed the door and smoldered.
A half hour later he asked to talk with me. The tears in his eyes quenched the embers in mine. We both apologized, hugged and bound up our hurt feelings with his big red handkerchief.
One thing I most love about my dad is that he didn’t pull rank—he was democratic. If he got upset with me, I was allowed to get equally upset with him, and he always had a big red handkerchief to dry the tears.