Four Tips on Stimulating Emotional Development

We all want our children to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. The ability to understand their own emotions and to express them in accordance with the local culture and social norms is an important step towards becoming that. We know that young children need our help to express and manage their emotions.  Yet when children grow older we sometimes expect them to ‘behave’ and tend to forget that learning how to manage our emotions is a life-long process, something not even all adults have mastered well.

Emotional Development - Expat Child PsychologySo what can you do to make sure you won’t expect more of your children than they can offer in the heat of the moment? Here are four suggestions that will help you stimulate your child’s emotional development:

1) Name the feeling
The first step of managing emotions is to identify the emotions. Your child may be experiencing all kinds of bodily sensations without knowing where they come from or what they mean. As a parent, you will often know that the situation your child is facing would lead to an angry feeling, a happy, a sad or a scary one, or perhaps even a combination of several feelings at once (it does require a bit of perspective-taking from your end). By naming those feelings your child will learn which bodily sensation and type of situation corresponds to which emotion.

Instead of:
‘STOP! NAGGING! You are NOT getting another cookie!’

Say:
‘I see that you are very disappointed about not getting another cookie.’

2) Validate the feeling
Let your child know you understand they feel this way, for example by mirroring the facial expression and using a soothing tone of voice. This validation of the emotion will help your child feel understood and gain some control over their sensations. It also tells your child that it is okay to experience (this) emotion.

Instead of:
‘There is no need to cry!’

Say:
‘I understand you feel this way, I would be so sad too if I could not get what I wanted.’

3) Give feedback on negative behaviors
Even though your child may not yet have learned how to control their emotions or how to express them appropriately, some expressions are simply harmful or unacceptable. You have to tell your child about this.

Instead of:
‘Stop screaming!’

Say:
‘It is not helpful to scream so loud, it hurts my ears and it hurts your voice.’

4) Provide alternative ways to express
Now that your child knows it is okay to experience the emotion and that it is not okay to express those emotions in specific ways. However, your child does not know what to do instead. Therefore, it is helpful to provide an alternative.

Instead of:
‘Stop screaming!

Say:
‘Instead of screaming, you could try ….’

Alternative options (depending on the age & your own preference):
– A verbal response: saying ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘It makes me feel angry’, etc.
– A physical response: punching a boxing ball or pillow, running a distance, squeezing a stress ball, etc.
– A cognitive response: count to 10, distract yourself, etc.

Saying goodbye to (best) friends

Saying goodbye is inherent to the international lifestyle. But even if a family decides to stay in one place for a while, as long as one is part of an international community the goodbyes continue. Children in international schools run a higher risk of seeing their best friends leave. When that happens, the goodbye might be as challenging for them as when they would be the ones leaving – except now the child might not have so much to look forwards to.

How can you help your child cope when their best friend is leaving?

  • Help your child prepare for the goodbye
    Give your child time and space to explore and experience the feelings associated with their best friend moving. Talk about how this might affect them now and later (next school year), as well as about how the friends will stay in touch. Also consider and plan how your child would like to say goodbye, perhaps by giving a gift, making something for their friend or throwing a farewell party?
  • Support your child’s friendship
    When children (or adults) learn that they will be separated from people they care about , it hurts, and children who are hurting sometimes respond by lashing out to their friend. Two best friends might pick a fight in order to try to relieve their own hurting. Sadly this is not helpful at all and there might not be a chance to make up when it is time for your child’s friend to say goodbye.You can help your child by talking about the hurt, the emotions they feel when thinking of their friend leaving and giving them space to feel this and explore this in a safe environment. Both friends can also be engaged in an exploration of their emotions together. Furthermore, you can help your child understand that if they feel hurt the reason is because they love their friend so much and will miss them (and picking fights won’t help really). You can also help your child understand that when their friend says something nasty, it might be because they will miss your child too much.
  • Say goodbye
    Set a clear date and time when the goodbye will be said. Make sure your child understands that this is the last time they will see their friend before their move. Talk with the moving family to find out which time would suit them best as they will probably be busy packing.
  • Help your child feel and express their emotions
    After the move, continue to take time for your child to explore his or her emotions regarding the move. This is a great moment to stimulate the emotional intelligence of your child; help your child find the right words for their emotions and find proper ways to express them. Shortly after the move you can initiate these talks every day. Later, initiate the talks when you know your child needs it or take time when your child is the initiator.
  • Moving forwards
    After an event like the departure of a best friend, there is time for grieving and time for moving forwards. Every child grieves the departure of a best friend differently, but after a week or two your child should experience more positive feelings than negative ones during the day. If your child has been very close to their best friend and not so close with the other children, it can be difficult for him/her to participate in social activities and join with other children. You can help your child by exploring their fears and setting small challenges: why don’t you ask to join in with A and B at recess today?

Is your child struggling to move forwards after the departure of a best friend? Perhaps the Social Skills 4 Kids course can help.
Want to keep informed? Subscribe to my newsletter and receive information about new blogs, events and more!