First parenting blog post from many others to follow will be about how can we, grown ups, can nurture social and emotional wellbeing of children. Is ‘emotional literacy’ the answer?
The social and emotional wellbeing of children can be nurtured by building positive relationships through effective communication. Emotional literacy helps children understand, manage and communicate feelings, contributing to their emotional and social wellbeing.
A piece of old wisdom says that ‘it only takes two adults to make a child, but it takes the whole community to raise it’. And indeed, not only parents, but just as much carers, schools and communities can have a huge impact, positive or negative, upon the emotional, physical, intellectual, social and moral lives of children as they develop and interact with their environment.
The social wellbeing for children is the situation where children are happy; friendly; have high self esteem and confidence; have an ongoing interest in understanding the social world around them and interacting with it.
An important dimension of social wellbeing is the emotional wellbeing – the ability to effectively communicate their feelings, understand and consider other people’s feelings and build positive relationships with their siblings, peers, family, teachers and practitioners. Emotional literacy or emotional intelligence it is an important tool for achieving social skills and emotional wellbeing.
The best thing that adults can do to help children achieve their full potential in social and emotional areas is set a good example and practice what they preach. Parents must think of themselves as tools for learning and model desirable behaviours. Children learn a lot by observing others, therefore all adults must display communication skills such as: expressing views clearly and non defensively; listening, empathy, politeness, respect. When asked to describe the “world’s worst health, education and social work professional”, children and young people, describe someone who doesn’t listen, unfriendly, rude, unapproachable, busy, boring, etc. This shows that, in a stressful world of personal insecurities and demanding jobs, communication skills and emotional literacy can fade sometimes, therefore we, the grown ups, must constantly be aware of and seek to improve our own behaviour, attitudes, social skills, emotional literacy and be friendly, honest, fair, respectful, patient and approachable. The result of this behaviour is rewarding for all parties: building positive relationships with children, increasing their self-esteem, helping them feel valued and safe, empower them, affirm their identity, encourage their creativity and help them build sustainable relationships with other people.
Another way to help children is to acknowledge that children have a right to, and are able to, communicate their views and act accordingly.
Grown ups must understand children’s methods, reasons and obstacles of communication and seek to enable them to express their views from early infancy and throughout their lives. However, language and a rich vocabulary are not the only ways that children communicate. Children’s play, drawing, music, art, storytelling, jokes and also general behaviour can communicate a lot to whomever pays attention. Children also respond well to those additional means of communication. When I simply ask my children to tidy up, they usually ignore me, but if I write ‘Floor space taken. I can’t land’ on a paper aeroplane that magically lands on the windowsill, they get the message and the joke and enthusiastically respond by putting their toys away. Books with their pictures and language are effective means of communication. A well chosen book can help a child understand and cope with social and emotional issues such as birth, death, marriage, change, new experiences,…transitions, …key life events such as starting nursery, having a new baby in the family, or going to the doctor or dentist.
Adults must also constantly consider that physical and emotional states; personality, social and cultural differences; environment and disability can obstruct a child’s ability to communicate, therefore additional ways to connect must be found.
Communication is not only about messages, facts, actions and events. People communicate about feelings and thoughts as well..
Emotional literacy is the ability to understand and manage emotions in oneself and in others and it needs to be modelled more than taught because people are different and are affected by their and other’s emotions differently. Emotional literacy includes skills such as emotional control, recognising own emotional state, managing emotions, recognising other’s emotions, being able to be explicit about feelings, and being able to talk about talking.
A lack of emotional literacy negatively affects children’s ability to relate to adults, to build and maintain friendships and to be socially successful: Those children can be shy, withdrawn, inhibited or aggressive, impatient, critical, demanding... bossy. When they sense rejection, they don’t have the resources or the flexibility to change to another approach. Thus the cycle of rejection perpetuates itself.
In a stressful situation like bullying, children who lack emotional literacy are less likely to try to stop it or to seek help from others; they might become bullies themselves or might simply allow the bullying to continue, thus ending up with low self esteem and even attempted suicide.
Some schools, simply by providing a bully box are providing children with the opportunity to unload worries, problems and feelings that they cannot define, helping them achieve the ability to define and manage feelings. Without such an opportunity, children are finding hard to focus on their study because their mind is preoccupied.
Parents have plenty opportunities to help children recognise their own and other people emotional states. This is a skill that can be taught and it is an important tool for managing feelings, thoughts and emotions. Wherever a child is in distress, the adult can help by listening, acknowledging and defining the feeling. This will make the child understand what is going on with his emotions and feel reassured, heard and accepted and enable him to control his emotions or solve the problem.
The power of example applies to emotional literacy as well. Shouting, ‘loosing it’, being brash and other emotional outbursts, are socially unacceptable behaviours associated with emotions. Parents should try (very hard sometimes) to inhibit those and display socially acceptable reactions to upsetting situations. Suppose children are intentionally spilling paint on the floor. Perfect opportunity to get the child to stop it and cooperate by describing the problem and asking for help in finding a solution: The floor is dirty. Dirty floors are upsetting me because cleaning them will take time and energy. I wish someone could help me clean them. Then I would feel better and I would have time to help you paint.
Inhibited parent vs Impulsive
However we as parents must find a balance between too controlled and too impulsive, between a “professional behavior and being natural. As a result the children are tuned in to how we are feeling. Overdoing the professional behavior could result in desensitized children that would inhibit emotions. So, not all negative feelings should be hidden from the children. Stress, worry, tiredness, fear can be shared and explained to the children, so they can also observe how the adult deals with them and ultimately adopt positive coping strategies.
Children come across many difficulties and conflicts and during their day. Some can be prevented and solved simply by explaining to them that sharing, being polite, taking turns are beneficial to all. Some conflicts require negotiating and problem solving skills. When serious conflicts like bullying are solved by an adult, children have an opportunity to observe and acquire conflict solving skills. Often children should be also encouraged to solve their own conflicts and problems so their negotiation and conflict resolution skills can be formed and strengthened
Therefore we can aid the social and emotional wellbeing of children by setting a good example, acknowledging that children have the right and ability to express their views, understanding the obstacles and the means of communication, listening, encouraging and facilitating communication. Emotional literacy is the way towards emotional and social wellbeing and the best way to help children achieve it, is by setting a good example. Click to read Children learn what they live.
I hope you enjoyed this first post, and that you'll leave some feedback and communicate your feelings and thoughts on the subject in the comments form. Next post will be about allowing the kids to participate in making decisions in matters concerning them.