How to promote the social and emotional health of young people

Life is stressful no matter what your age, and children don’t have as much experience dealing with unpleasant emotions as adults. How can we help them?

We may not have the ability to eliminate these challenges, but we can teach children how to understand and self-regulate the emotions they experience. We sat down with Dr. Emily Griese of Sanford Research in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to learn how parents can encourage their children’s emotional development.

Consider the perspective of others

When starting to promote positive emotional health in youth, says Dr. Griese, “any activity that promotes perspective taking can be really important.” This can be built into many different games, such as Simon Says, Tag or Follow the Leader.

Children often absorb this information sooner than we expect. By age 6, children have the ability to see that other people have different points of view than they do. Around the age of 10 and 11, they develop a sense of empathy.

Cueing perspective in children at an early stage gives them the ability to take a step back. Instead of coping in inappropriate ways (such as eating unhealthy foods, acting out, etc.), it can help them understand their role in situations and how to better overcome challenges.

Communication is key

Bad behavior or temper tantrums can be difficult for parents to navigate. Use these challenges as a learning opportunity for both you and your child. After the incident, Dr. Griese recommends getting back into circle to discuss with your child in age-appropriate language:

  • How did they react?
  • What emotions they felt
  • If they could change their answer

For example, if your child is upset, say something like, “I understand why you’re upset. That was difficult. Maybe next time, instead of throwing things away, let’s spend some time alone, talk to someone else, or count to 10.” By doing this, you are validating your child’s feelings and emotions, but you are also teaching them proper management techniques of mood and calming.

“For some kids, it’s easier to give them time for themselves first,” Dr. Griese said. “Once they have calmed down emotionally, some children can work through their emotions more quickly.”

Be sure to determine how and when to talk about the situation with your child depending on his temperament. There is no set time when to do this, as long as they are calm, can think clearly and the incident is recent in their memory.

Find the balance of your family

Extracurricular activities provide countless benefits for children, including exposure to diversity, learning opportunities, and most importantly, fun!

However, it is important to remember quality over quantity. As caregivers, you want to provide your child with every opportunity available. Yet when kids are rushing from one thing to another, they can easily become overwhelmed.

Even of her own children, Dr. Griese says, “I can see when they come home from day care that they need time away from their peer group, a safe place where they can have time to themselves, time to the family or just a less busy environment. Moving children from one chaotic environment to another can lead to an emotional breakdown, especially when they are younger. We know the importance of these activities, but it’s about finding a balance and it’s really different for every child.”

Trust your intuition and remember that you know your child best. If you see signs of fatigue, use it as a teaching moment to explain to your child that it’s okay to take breaks and rests when needed. This could mean skipping a workout, not meeting friends for a night, or even cutting out an activity altogether.

Dr. Griese suggests, especially for younger children, “Designate evenings and weekends as family time.” Remember that your family’s balance may differ greatly from that of others, and that’s okay. Finding your unique balance is key to emotional health.

Make sure you follow

Every day, children experience many feelings and emotions that affect their mood, and the result is not always great. As caregivers, it is vital that you set a precedent for how you deal with fluctuating moods and behaviors.

There is no black and white answer and it may look different for every family, but the important thing is to follow. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Talk to your child about coping strategies he can use to manage and motivate his mood. When outbursts occur, remind them of these strategies.

Also, remember to be a positive role model and practice these techniques yourself.

“It’s an emotional reaction. We all have that,” Dr. Griese said. “Even adults haven’t picked up on this, but as adults it’s our job to talk to kids about the process of managing emotions.”

Finding the balance of your family and meeting expectations is not always an easy task. Trust your instincts and know that today’s lessons help build and improve social-emotional skills that last a lifetime.

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Posted in Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Healthy Living, Parenting, Research

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