As adults, we know we can be our own worst critics. As parents and caregivers, we can help kids develop strong self-care skills to help them weather adversity and cheer themselves on. Magination Press’s Fantastic You by Danielle Dufayet shows young readers how to develop a positive and nurturing relationship with themselves. In the note to parents and caregivers, Dr. Julia Martin Burch offers strategies to help children build self-care skills that mirror what the kids in Fantastic You do. Identifying Emotions Learning to notice, identify, and soothe their own emotions begins in childhood, but your child will continue to develop these skills throughout their lives. Emotions can be overwhelming to all of us, but especially for young children, surges in emotion and the physical sensations that go with them, like butterflies in their tummies or feeling shaky, can be confusing. They rely on you to help them figure out what the feelings mean and to name them. Get curious with your child about what they are feeling. You can ask them what is happening inside their body and if they can name the emotion they are feeling. You can also support them by describing what you see and guessing what the emotion might be that they are feeling. “I see that your face is red and your hands are in fists. When I do those actions, I’m often feeling angry. Do you think that’s how you are feeling?” Self-validation Along with learning to recognize and identify emotions, it’s important for children to learn that emotions aren’t right or wrong, they just are. No matter how big or painful an emotion is, it is a safe and acceptable experience. You can help children by noticing and validating their emotions. For example, you could say, “Given that it’s raining and we can’t go to the beach, I can see why you are feeling sad.” When children learn to validate their own feelings, it allows them to reduce the intensity of an emotion they are feeling in the moment and builds confidence in their ability to manage their emotions. Self-soothing Help your child discover which activities or experiences help them calm down or feel better. What helps a child feel better will depend on the situation and on the child’s preferences, so explore a lot of different activities. Some kids will find that soothing their senses with music, a hot bath, looking at clouds, or snuggling with a favorite lovey might help. Others might find a project like building a fort or putting on a puppet show is a good distraction. Finding out what helps you self-soothe is an important skill that’s fun to develop. Helpful self-talk Learning to recognize how we talk to ourselves is another important life skill. Helping your child understand how powerful their inner voice can be is the first step in teaching them to use positive self-talk. When we talk to ourselves in a negative way, we often feel worse and are less likely to persistRead More
About Julia Martin Burch, PhDJulia Martin Burch, PhD is a staff psychologist at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program at McLean Hospital in Boston. Dr. Martin Burch completed her training at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School.She works with children, teens, and parents and specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, obsessive compulsive, and related disorders. Outside of her work at McLean, Dr. Martin Burch gives talks to clinicians, parent groups, and schools on working with anxious youth.
Strong emotions are an essential part of being human. They enable us to love, feel joy, and connect with others. However, strong emotions - particularly uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger, and fear - can be painful and hard to cope with. Children are not born knowing how to handle these powerful emotions. Perhaps you can think of examples from just this week when your own child struggled with anger or sadness! Learning to navigate their own emotions is one of the most important developmental tasks young children face. As a parent or caregiver, there is much you can do to help your child build skills to cope with big emotions. Validate your child's emotions... One of the most important things a caregiver can do to support an upset child is to validate their feelings. In the context of emotions, validation means communicating to your child that you hear they are upset and it is okay to feel that way. It is important to note that validating your child's strong emotions does not imply that you accept or approve of their behaviors following that emotion. For example, if your child is feeling angry about someone knocking their blocks over and yells or knocks their playmate's blocks in retaliation, you might say "Given how hard you worked on your block tower, I understand that you're feeling angry." By saying this, you are not communicating "... and it's great that you knocked over John's blocks!" but instead are simply sharing that you see they are upset and the emotion makes sense to you. Labeling your child's emotions helps to increase their emotional self-awareness. It also helps them begin to make connections between their experiences (my tower was knocked over) and emotions (and now I feel mad). This is a critical building block of learning to regulate emotions. Validation can also be very soothing to a child dealing with a painful feeling. It's important, however, to resist the urge to jump straight from validation to problem solving. ... and pause before problem solving It is almost always more effective to wait to talk through a difficult situation with your child when they are calm, rather than in the heat of a strong emotion. Think of a situation in your own life in which you felt strong emotions. How effectively could you take in language and think through your actions while still feeling intense emotions? Probably not very well! Children are the same, only to a greater degree because of their not-yet-fully-developed brains! Validate your child's difficult emotion first, then help them calm down. Later, when your child is calmer, you can discuss their emotion-related actions, give a consequence if needed, and problem solve for how they can cope more skillfully in the future. Of course, if your child's strong emotion caused them to do something unsafe, it is important to respond immediately. For example, by separating them from the playmate they hit. Once your child is calm, you canRead More
How are you reading this article right now? On your phone? Tablet? Likely because you came across this article on one of your social media feeds. As your life right now likely illustrates, access to screens and, subsequently, to social media has increased tremendously in recent years and is now nearly ubiquitous. Accordingly, children are growing up immersed in a culture in which social connection, information and entertainment are available at one’s fingertips. There are many positive aspects to the level of connection and access technology and social media afford children, including opportunities to easily connect with friends and learn and expand their awareness and horizons beyond their local environment. But like with any activity, there can be negative components of children’s access to social media and screens–particularly when they are overused. What We Know (Or Rather What We Don’t!) While it is understandable that many parents are worried about the impact of social media on their children, it is also important to be a cautious and critical consumer of dramatic headlines about the impacts of social media. At present, there is still fairly limited research on the impact of social media usage on children. Additionally, many of the studies that have been conducted are “correlational” in nature, meaning while the study tells us that two things (such as social media use and anxiety) appear to be related, it cannot tell us the “direction” of that relationship, or which one causes the other. For example, a number of studies have found that high Facebook use is correlated with symptoms of depression; therefore, while using Facebook could lead someone to feel more sad, it could also be that individuals who are already somewhat depressed spend more time isolated and using social media, rather than going out and engaging with others. One increasingly studied area is the potential relationship between heavy social media use and anxiety. Though there is still no conclusive evidence, researchers and clinicians have proposed that anxiety and heavy social media use may have a reciprocal relationship. Specifically, children and teens more prone to social anxiety may use social media in part to avoid the potentially challenging or awkward moments that can come up in face to face interactions with peers. In the short run, this is an effective way to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions, however, in the long run, these children and teens are deprived of the opportunity to learn to navigate challenging social situations. They also do not get the chance to learn how to cope with the uncomfortable emotions that may result from challenging interactions such as anxiety or shame. Over time, this lack of practice may lead to deficits both in social skills and emotion regulation abilities, which could, in turn, cause the child to further avoid real life social interactions. Healthy Social Media Use Monitoring a child’s social media usage is a new parenting challenge. Luckily, the principles behind teaching your child how to responsibly use and engage withRead More