Starting from the youngest age possible, children should be taught to explore the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
It is essential for children to learn that their thoughts lead to feelings, and their feelings lead to behaviours. If we can teach children to identify each of these as separate yet connected phases, we can teach children to question, label, and most importantly, make choices about which thoughts, feelings and behaviours to hold onto as being healthy and useful.
While spending time with children, we need to provide encouragement to explore their different thoughts about themselves, about others and about the world. We can help them to understand that not all of our thoughts are necessarily true or useful.
Regardless of our age, all of us can often hold onto untrue thoughts. We have the choice to look at these thoughts and determine if these thoughts are good for us or not. We can let those thoughts go or reframe them into something more positive. We can begin practicing this exercise with children by asking them what they are thinking in a situation, and then interrogate the thought:
- Is it true?
- Where is the evidence?
- Does this thought make you feel good?
- How else could you think about this?
When we start to develop more positive alternatives, this is referred to as ‘reframing’.
We need to remember that children feel all the same feelings as adults do. Children often don’t know how to label these feelings or what to do with them. An adult’s role is to spend time with children expanding their vocabulary around emotions. When building the language around emotions, we need to get them to acknowledge when they feel and/or experience different feelings. This is an important element because when they begin to recognize what they are feeling (and why), they can make good choices about what they want to do with these feelings.
Remember, having hard emotions – like anger, sadness, worry – is acceptable in some situations. Even in those ‘hard emotion’ times, we shouldn’t rush children through these moments without:
- acknowledging these feelings,
- connecting them to their cause,
- finding healthy ways to process these feelings.
It is equally essential for both boys and girls to be encouraged to express emotion in a healthy way. We shouldn’t fall into the gendered idea that some feelings are okay for girls and not boys, and vice versa.
Our outward behaviours becomes a reflection of how we see ourselves. As individuals, we are accountable for our actions. We can’t blame other people or situations for what we do in the world. In any given case, there is always more than one choice. This becomes an essential part of discipline. Implementing rules and boundaries are ways of promoting pro-social and healthy behaviours and limiting negative and unhealthy ones.
By reminding children that they can make their own choices in any situation, they become accountable for their actions. Children should be encouraged to take the time to make choices which will result in the best possible outcomes. This is often the hardest in situations where we feel intense feelings.
We as adults, need to help children to get into the habit of slowing these moments down, exploring all their options, and acting out what they think. These habits become a child’s personal self-confidence. The child’s internal dialogue becomes, ‘No matter what I’m feeling, I can hold this emotion long enough to decide what I’m going to do with it’.
Parents can also act as role models by demonstrating these habits in their own daily lives. Often by simply verbalizing, ‘I’m feeling furious right now. I need time to think about this feeling and what I’m going to do with it’.
As role models for children, we should not be afraid to show our own vulnerability. We don’t always need to have all the answers. We are allowed to feel sad, angry and worried. We, too, are allowed to take our time in finding the solutions and deciding how we want to deal with these feelings. We can make mistakes, and we can say sorry when we do.
If you are in need of a professional therapist, we welcome you to consult with Jaspreet at Smile Psychology. If you are interested, you may contact her by phone at 780-237- 1235, or use this contact form for your convenience.