What does managing emotions have to do with a healthy self esteem ? Well it has everything to do with it. To be able to manage emotions adequately, you need to learn who you are, what makes you tick and how to cope with it. The way you cope with your emotions will have a direct impact on your environment and on your relationship with yourself, and others.
To have a good understanding of our internal world is key in developing healthy relationships. If you ask me, managing emotions is key to healthy and balanced living and thus emotional intelligence (EQ- emotional quotient) is a skill we can’t afford to do without. At times, I am certain that emotional intelligence is more likely to lead to a successful and well balanced life than any IQ score (intellectual quotient).
Part of the human experience involves having emotions, daily, and thus we need to learn how to live with them and manage them. Emotions are the gateway to understanding what is happening in our internal and external worlds.
Usually we have emotions following a trigger, whether it is conscious or not, whether it is a private experience or its triggered by external factors. Anger for example, is usually, an indication that we feel threatened somehow or that we have been wronged. We need to make friends with anger. It is useful and not to be suppressed or ignored. People never question positive emotions, usually they want more of those and they don’t care to overanalyze them. Bring it on! and please don’t you dare leave! It is the negative emotions that get in the way if we are unable to process them properly.
Now back to your child, or yourself for that matter. The greatest gift you can give your child is to teach him or her how to ride the wave of emotions, not fear them or fight them.
Parents are often dismayed at their kids’ inability to manage emotions, but is it realistic to have such an expectation? Take a step back and look around you. Most adults do not manage their emotions properly. On the outside, they may appear as if they do because their public behaviours do not slight us, but a majority of adults do not know how to manage emotions in a healthy way.
Let me share a few examples. Some people stuff their emotions inside and fester, other display a wide range of responses from completely passive, to passive-aggressive to plain old aggressive. Others take it out on their kids, their pets, their partners, the elderly, or any other vulnerable population. Very few people express their emotions and needs assertively. Take a moment and look at yourself, your partner, your friends, your boss, your family… how do they typically deal with anger, frustration, fear?
So, what I have translated over the years, is this. Rather than teaching their children to have healthy emotional coping skills, parents want their kids to have emotional reactions that are “socially acceptable”, that won’t embarrass them, that won’t question their power and authority.If a parent doesn’t stand confident in their authority, they might misinterpret their child’s reaction as defiance or manipulation.
But is that really what you want when you think of it? A child that will bottle up his emotions, and ignore them? It may appear more appropriate than a full blown temper tantrum, slamming of doors, screaming and swearing, expressing a different opinion, questioning your decisions, yet it is unhealthy nonetheless.
To expect, after a few reprimands, punishments, and lecturing (at least not without proper teaching), 5- 6 year olds to manage their emotions is unrealistic,. As humans, developmentally speaking, we are unable to fully master that skill until we are in our early twenties. Until then, we are in school!
It is not an easy task. Parents thus need to be patient and teach rather than punish those outbursts. If you realize that when a flow of emotion shows up, the child is overwhelmed by that emotion and has no idea how to process it and make it pass. They don’t have the knowledge that it will pass and that they will be okay on the other side, so it can be quite distressing. We need as parents to escort them through this and feel compassion, not anger.
From a place of compassion we can validate our child and walk her through that emotion. It is important not to go into the left brain and into problem solving immediately. First,we need to attend to the right brain, and connect with the emotion through empathy and validation. This in itself can have tremendous calming powers.
When you are at a loss and have no idea what is going on, simply ask. When a child is throwing a tantrum, he is trying to tell you something. Simply ask, calmly, “What are you trying to tell me? I’m here, I’m listening.” Hug the child, touch him. Don’t get angry and scream, you will just make it worse. Even worse, don’t threaten with a consequence or send them to their rooms. When the child attempts to tell you, just sit with them and ride the wave together. Retell the story, and see where they are coming from.
How does this relate to self esteem, you wonder. Firstly, people who know themselves well are very self aware. Secondly, they have less of a tendency to blame others for their feelings, and thus take responsibility for them. This is turn empowers them. as they no longer are victims of another person. When you feel empowered, and in control of your life, it has a positive impact on your self esteem.
I won’t lie to you, this is no easy skill. From the time my daughter was little, I label her emotions, as we speak and interact, in order for her to develop an emotional vocabulary and self awareness. In addition to this, it has for effect of teaching her to ride the wave of emotions instead of fearing them. It taught her to not fear her emotions and to get acquainted with them. I’ve always allowed her to have her own feelings, separate from mine, and validated her, from the point of view of her reality and experience, not mine.
Little children live in the moment. They are masters at mindfulness. So when they experience an emotion, they live it intensely, the joys and the sorrows. They are not thinking of last time when they were upset and got over it, and they surely aren’t thinking of what will happen in the next 5 minutes. This is why they live their emotions so intensely. The younger they are, the more intense the feelings and the less skilled they are at managing them.
Through the process of validation you are teaching your child to validate themselves, thus embrace the feeling as it comes. With time and experience the become better equipped at being accepting of their own feelings, and not live with self doubt or judgment, the way adults often do. A child who is validated is taught self respect in the process, and with self respect come many benefits. They also learn compassion for others. Remember you can only be loving and accepting of others to the degree you are loving and accepting of yourself.
In the process of teaching your child to manage their emotions, you are also deeply connecting with your child. Connection is the basis of a healthy relationship between parent and child. Through this positive interaction, the child is less likely to seek attention through negative means, is less likely to kick, hit, and bite as a way to physically connect with you.
In teaching your children how to manage emotions, as opposed to disciplining their emotions, you are teaching them to stand up for themselves, to set boundaries, self-care, the ability to distinguish mine from yours and that it is okay to be different, you are teaching personal responsibility as opposed to blaming, you are teaching conflict resolution. This in the process will enhance their self esteem, enhance their relationships, and make them resilient and brave, instead of fearful. All these qualities do not appeal to bullies by the way.
Like any parenting duty, it takes time, repetition, and patience, and mostly love. With love and compassion any goal is attainable.
For more details on how to manage emotions I recommend you read the Whole Brain Child. The entire book is about how to teach your child how to manage their emotions.