Want to raise emotionally mature, self-aware, happy kids?
According to clinical psychologist Dr Kenneth Barish of Cornell University, regular positive reinforcement and honest, emotional connection are key, as is finding ‘moments of repair’ whenever emotions have turned sour.
As he writes in Psychology Today, “Children learn invaluable lessons from moments of repair. They learn that, although it is not always easy, moments of anxiety, sadness and anger are moments and can be repaired. Disappointments are disappointments, not catastrophes, and bad feelings do not last forever. Moments of repair may also lead to a reduction in the level of stress hormones and other stress-related physiological processes that, when prolonged, are damaging to children’s physical and emotional health.”
But finding time for these crucial moments in an already busy family life can feel overwhelming – a fact that makes the next part of Kenneth’s research even more appealing.
Take stock at bedtime
He goes on to say that great results can be achieved in just ten minutes, with bedtime offering a relaxed and intimate moment to take stock and iron out any pressures or tense moments from the day.
“In these brief daily conversations, we should ask kids if there is something they might want to talk about,” says Kenneth. “Perhaps a problem she is having at school or with her friends, something she is angry with us about, or what she may be anxious about the following day.”
Can’t do a bedtime thing? Maybe you have lots of kids to attend to, or perhaps you work nights. No problem.
Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp says the same results can be achieved by connecting with your child for a total of nine minutes, in small increments across the day.
- Three minutes in the morning, right after they get up
- Three minutes as soon as they, or you, come through the door on the way home
- Three minutes snuggling before they go to sleep.
Jaak says these are opportune times because your child is cycling between different aspects of their day, and that makes them more receptive.
To optimise this special one-on-one time, we can:
- For your pre-lingual child, who cannot speak yet, spend time looking at books, singing, talking softly, or cuddling.
- For older kids, ask open-ended questions and, as your child responds, guide them to use ‘feeling’ words to describe their experiences.
Filling their emotional cup through the day
These little top-ups will help them get through the day, with you as their emotional root – a place of comfort and stability, no matter what happens.
But, regardless of the time of day, Kenneth says it’s important that parents use the little moments available to open up about their own day and crucially, apologise for their own cranky or ‘bad’ behaviour. It demonstrates to our children that even when something negative happens, there’s always a safe space to chat through it and move on.
“When there has been conflict in our relationship with our kids, it is especially important for us to take the lead and begin to repair hurtful interactions. We can say, for example, ‘I know I was really angry at you earlier. Maybe I got too angry’.”
“In these moments, children begin to develop a more balanced, less ‘all-or-nothing’ perspective on the disappointments and frustrations in their lives,” he explains. “As a result, they will be better able to regulate their emotions – they will be less urgent in their expressions of distress, less insistent in their demands, and able to think more constructively about how to solve emotional problems.”
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