Emotional resilience is the key to learning how to deal with our feelings and how they make us think, feel and behave. If a child is aware of and able to understand their emotions and how to positively cope with them, they will have the foundations of positive general well-being and will be able to learn and develop both academically and socially.
How do children learn emotional resilience?
All children are different and that is a great thing. If we all had the same personality and likes, dislikes or interests, life would be very boring. We need a mix of personalities in our society to encourage all the imagination and ideas that young children bring. There are no right or wrong ways to behave - only what adults (and our culture) perceive to be the right or wrong way to behave.
Nurture versus nature
Children inherit their genes from their families, and we cannot do much about our basic ‘make-up’. This is to be celebrated. We are all a product of our upbringing, and this includes the environment we grow up in. Our environment makes a massive difference to how children perceive themselves and the world around them. A child’s environment has an impact on their self-esteem and confidence, morals of right and wrong, how to behave (and how not to), respect of others and themselves, and what they can achieve in their life.
We do not underestimate a parent’s responsibility. It is a huge, never-ending task that can be extremely frustrating but, mostly, extremely rewarding and the best thing you have ever done in your life. Life can be stressful with other children to look after, work, families, responsibilities, etc. We all need to be mindful of being kind to each other and encouraging this in our children. We need to listen to what the child is telling us. Show and tell them that you are listening and are taking in what they are telling you. If you are busy, tell them and agree on a time when you can talk without any distractions. A worry box can help. If your child has a worry they can write it down and put it in the worry box for you to discuss when you can. Always have open communication with your children.
Encourage them to talk about how they feel (or write it down, draw a picture, write a poem or letter etc.) and that you will always help them find the best way to deal with the issue. It is ok to feel whatever emotion they feel. They are feeling this emotion because something is not right with them. If we ‘let our emotions out’, they will be much easier to deal with - even if telling someone else is a bit scary. Sometimes, we cannot agree or decide on the best course of action. Sometimes, we need to weigh up the options and decide which way is best. Allow this time to investigate and reflect. Sometimes, our best ideas come from not thinking about our issues and focusing our thoughts on something else. This time gives the limbic system in the brain time to calm its emotions and allow the pre-frontal cortex time to process the situation and help us to come to a logical solution.
Allow them to have a trusted person that they can talk too. Children do not always want to tell their parents how they are feeling as they do not want to upset their parents’ feelings. They may want to keep their feelings confidential, which should be agreed with their trusted adult - unless the adult has cause for concern about their safety - and then they will need to tell the child that they will need to pass their feelings on to someone who can help.
Treating young children with respect and giving them the space to feel they can express what they feel is key. Our children are much cleverer than we think. They may understand what is happening around them, even if they are not able to articulate it. By believing in what they think, do and say, counselling helps the child ‘say what they really think’, to have their thoughts validated and look at other ways to cope with the situation. By using storytelling, drawing, Lego, puppets, and imagery, children are able to tell their story using metaphor (as though the story is not happening to them) to express their feelings.
A child’s mental health is the foundation of their being. Everything we have talked about here is fundamental to good mental health. Children may experience neuroses, such as anxiety, low mood, depression, bereavement, loss, guilt, shame, fear, frustration, and anger. Issues that need investigation by a mental health professional may include Autistic spectrum conditions, ADHD, sensory processing, eating disorders, trauma and abuse, self-harm, hearing voices, and transgender issues.
Each child presents and deals with these issues differently and needs to be treated in a way that meets their needs. Talking to your school SENCO and GP is helpful as they have a wealth of knowledge. A referral to the Children’s and Adolescent’s Mental Health service (CAMHs) may also be appropriate.
There are many charity organisations which can be very helpful in these situations, such as:
Young Minds - www.youngminds.org.uk
Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544
Saneline - 0300 304 7000
Childline - 0800 1111
Papyrus - Prevention of Young Suicide - www.papyrus-uk.org
Counselling can help both the child and the parents of the child. Learning to live with a specific mental health issue can be extremely demanding for all the family - and it’s always good to talk.
Written by Heather Shipley, CBT and Emotional Therapeutic Counsellor, Ad Dip FETC MNCS MFETC