What is emotional health? Emotional health is the ability to recognize and express both positive and negative emotions in ways that are appropriate and respectful to the situation. It is also empathy and the willingness to help and comfort others. This is often referred to as Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Literacy. Children who are emotionally healthy can understand how to get along well with others, and are better prepared to learn and succeed at school and throughout life.
Below are some tips and strategies to support and build your child’s emotional health/emotional intelligence from the start:
Encourage your child to reflect before acting
- Play the game,‘What Next?’ Tell him or her about a challenging scenario, then ask,”What next?” Example: Amelia broke her mom’s vase… What next?
- Encourage your child to use words when problems arise. [ e.g.,”I’m mad!”] During a disagreement, allow your child to express his or her emotions-both positive and negative- and encourage active listening when others express their emotions, as well. It begins early.
Develop a balance between fearfulness and impulsiveness
- When your child does something inappropriate, give him or her a consequence that matches the behavior. For example, if your child is coloring on the table instead of the paper, gently take the crayon away until he or she is ready to color on the paper. Remember to give your child another chance and offer praise immediately for appropriate behavior.
- Provide choices everyday, such as selecting clothes, toys and snacks. This will help your child build confidence in the decisions he or she makes. Also remember that the younger your child is, the fewer choices to present, starting with 2 choices. It reduces confusion and potential frustration for your child.
- Don’t push your child to do things that make him or her afraid. Instead, give time to take small steps toward the desired activity.
Encourage your child to empathize with other people’s feelings
- Respond with empathy when he or she is hurt, upset or sick. When your child falls down and gets hurt, respond in a caring and consoling manner. Your child will learn to respond to others in the same way.
Help your child deal with feelings at an age-appropriate level
- When your child is upset, label those feelings and show him or her different ways to cope. For example, “You seem angry. Would you like a hug?”
- Show your child how to maturely deal with strong emotions, such as anger, frustration or sadness. He or she is always looking and learning from you, so remember to keep your cool and model appropriate ways to deal with feelings.
Start teaching emotional health and showing attachment from the very first moments of life
- Respond sensitively to your baby’s cries during the 1st six months. Use your words to label the emotions you see. Example: “Oh, so sad…baby’s crying.”
- Play pet the dog. First, you pet your dog or cat. Then, with your hand o0ver your baby’s hand, gently pet your dog or cat together.
- Play different types of music with different ‘moods’. Take your baby in your arms and dance together.
Give opportunities for your child to be thoughtful and caring to others
- Give your child a doll or cuddly toy to care for[feed, bathe, hug]. Talk along with what your child is doing, and about how helpful, thoughtful and caring he or she is being.
- Make a ‘Teddy Bear Hospital’ for all your child’s cuddlies. Add blankets, beds, bandages, etc….. Then act out imaginary situations as you both help the toys ‘get better’.
- Play ‘Guess that Feeling’– you act out an emotion and your child will guess what you are feeling. Include those cuddlies, stuffed animals to add more personalities and situations to the game.
Show your child the importance of helping and getting along with others
- Help organize a playdate with one or two friends. This gives your child the chance to design the personalized invitations or practice phone etiquette if delivered by a call.
- Each week, give your child a few jobs around the home[ making a bed, putting toys in order- his or her surroundings first]. Tell your child how much this helps and how important it is to the family. Focus not on cleanliness more than the helping aspect of the assigned ‘jobs’ or chores. Your child learns to understand responsibility and cooperation, too.
During the first 5-6 years of life, your child’s brain develops rapidly and dramatically. Your child develops socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually. A good start in life, days full of caring, kindness, sharing and creativity, will be the foundation for future success and happiness throughout life. Your child is constantly watching and learning from you, as his or her first and best teacher. Children learn best by playing. So, have fun and be confident that how you are- attentive, caring, a good listener- is what they learn day after day. Start early, stay positive and have fun with your child as he or she begins the life-long journey of learning! Parents are the very first and very best teachers. Teach your children well!