Emotional empowerment — Teaching children to manage their emotional health

On Our Sleeves

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Monday at noon, Nationwide Children’s Hospital On Our Sleeves Clinical Director and pediatric psychologist Dr. Parker Huston joins NBC4’s Jennifer Bullock to discuss emotional empowerment and the Million Classrooms Project.

Emotional Empowerment

One of the most important parts of the human experience is feeling the range of emotions we go through in our lifetime. Even at a young age, the emotions children experience, from happiness to sadness, can lead to enriched life experiences and improved relationships on the journey to adulthood. 

Emotional Empowerment allows us to experience these emotions, while also teaching us how to have better control over our emotions and behavior when necessary – especially strong negative emotions like anger, fear and anxiety.  

Children experience a variety of emotions daily: positive, pleasant, negative, unpleasant – even painful. Throughout our development, we learn ways to identify, express and manage our emotions, but these skills do not come naturally or quickly for everyone. That’s why it’s important to teach our children how to regulate their emotions through Emotional Empowerment.

Why is Emotional Empowerment important for a child’s mental wellness?

The ability to understand, express and regulate our emotions is one of the most important skills we learn in life. For many, it’s a lifelong journey. 

Children and adults with mental health conditions often struggle with strong, uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, fear, sadness or anger. Mental health therapy often focuses on teaching people a set of skills to better identify, express and regulate their emotions to improve their lives and relationships with others. 

If we teach children how to practice and hone these skills early in life, they will be better prepared as adolescents and adults. Even adults can benefit from practicing these skills more often and being mindful of their emotions.

What are the positive outcomes of teaching these skills?

Research tells us these skills are related to many positive outcomes, including:

  • Increased resilience
  • Success in school
  • Enriched social skills
  • Improved attention and concentration
  • Enhanced decision-making ability
  • Reduced long-term mental health symptoms

What are the five steps of Emotional Empowerment?

  1. Identifying emotions and what they mean.
  2. Recognizing emotions as you are feeling them.
  3. Noticing and understanding emotions in others.
  4. Expressing emotions appropriately.
  5. Regulating strong emotions through individual coping strategies.

At what age can children learn these skills and how do I start?

We can start learning these skills early, even before we can speak! 

Begin by labeling your emotions or labeling a child’s emotions for them when possible. Say things like, “I’m feeling so happy because I get to spend time with you,” or “I’m feeling frustrated because I dropped my glass of milk.” 

If you see an easily identified emotion in a child, say, “It looks like you’re feeling angry because I told you that you can’t have a donut before dinner,” or “I can see you are feeling sad that your favorite teddy bear had to go in the wash.”

Which step should I focus on first?

These skills are important at any age to effectively manage your emotional health. Expectations might differ as we get older, but anyone can practice focusing on the emotions of those around us, using language more to describe how we feel or managing our frustration better when we don’t get our way. 

Think about which of these skills a child is already starting to develop and which they might need some help with. It’s natural, for instance, for children to have a difficult time thinking about the emotions of others until they are elementary aged; however, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice by reading books, talking about friends and family, or using yourself as a model for this skill. 

Throughout each step of Emotional Empowerment, we have activities for you to practice with children at any stage of development.

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