I have worked with many children of many different ages. In working with teenagers, I can tell you that the biggest issue most parents have is trying to engage with their teen and have their teen talk to them. Plain and simple, we learn how to talk about our feelings.
Photo courtesy of reflections.
It is not something that is just innate in humans, in fact,
it is the opposite.
The easiest way to start this process is while your child is still young. Think of how technologically advanced our culture is today. With that advancement comes a lack of true interpersonal connection. Children are growing up with their own computer, with their own gaming system, possibly a phone, and maybe even their own i-pad. While technology has connected us in ways we never thought possible, like my brother-in-law who is in Afghanistan being able to FaceTime with his daughter here, we have to remember that the person reading our posts, tweets, etc have feelings.
The feelings will never go away.
The biggest question then is, how do we help create productive, thoughtful, and caring individuals with so much standing in our way? The answer is complex and I think needs to be researched, but I have witnessed one small step parents can take with their children.
I will warn you right off the bat that this is going to sound really corny, but hear me out.
Do an “emotions check-in” twice a day.
Photo courtesy of commons.
We are not used to creating space for emotions to be discussed. We are not used to talking about them unless we are upset. This exercise is challenging for everyone involved and can even just be between you and your partner.
Start with a feelings chart. I have some amazing examples so send me a message and I can get you one.
How it works: Emotions check-in’s start with asking someone, “How are you feeling?” Allow the person to answer with an actual emotion and you are not allowed to have them expand. Feeling “okay” or “tired” do not count for emotional check-in’s because those are not feelings, which is where having a chart will help. When they give a response, you then ask “What are your goals for today?” Allow them to answer. Then finally, “Who can help you with them?”
At my previous job, we did these check-ins at the beginning of every meeting we had. Think of the residual benefits from checking in with your employees at the beginning of a meeting. Let’s say Megan tells the group that right now she is feeling distracted and that her goal is just to make it through the day. She feels like no one can help her but herself. As a leader, co-worker, etc. you now have a baseline reading on how Megan is doing today. You know that maybe later you can check in with her to see if she is feeling better.
You can offer her support.
Now, think of doing this with your family.
Knowing that your child is feeling happy, or anxious, or sad will help you as a parent approach them in an appropriate way. If your child told you they are nervous, you know that when they don’t do what you asked of them you probably shouldn’t yell because it will make them more upset.
I cannot express enough the value I see this bringing to a family. It teaches children about emotions and that they are typically fleeting. If a child is sad now, you can check back in later and help them recognize that their sadness went away. It teaches children that having many feelings at one time is normal. It teaches children that there are more feelings than happy and sad. It teaches children that you value their feelings. It teaches children that they have every right to feel the way they do. It teaches children to consider how other people feel. It teaches children that at times emotions dictate our behaviors, but that ultimately we have control over them by stating a goal to work toward.
One of the biggest values I see in a family check-in is that it teaches parents to censor what they say in front of their children. Kids should know you are sad, stressed, etc. but in stating your goal as a parent you have the opportunity to teach a child how to manage those feelings.
I have witnessed parents in my sessions tell their children “Mommy feels incredibly overwhelmed and stressed.” Children pick up on these emotions and know they are not good ones. By explaining in your goal that you are going to do something to change those feelings, you teach your child how to handle their own emotions. Kids do not need to know the details;
they need to see the progress.
“Mommy’s goal is to talk with other adults and figure out the stuff that is stressful.”
After the check-in is complete, remind your children that if they need support, you are there for them. Depending on their age, you can always check-in with them at another point in time. Maybe send your teen a text saying, “Hey, I hope the anxiety has subsided. Let me know if you need anything.” To not acknowledge the feeling as existing would be the worst thing you could do with any child. They feel how they feel just like you or I.
The range of emotions felt throughout the day is incredible especially for a school aged child.
Doing an emotions check-in in the morning before your child goes to school then again before bed will anchor your child to their at-home support system.
Send me a message if you would like a copy of an emotions chart to use!