Monday, November 10, 2014

Emotions Make Kids Smart

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There are three important reasons why helping kids understand their emotions makes them smart. First, when you help kids notice their emotions, they develop self awareness; second, when you help kids pause and problem solve on how to respond, they gain self control; and thirdly, helping them value their emotions helps them develop concern for other people’s emotions. Let's look at each one.

Self Awareness
When we help kids notice and name their emotions we help them become fully present to their experiences. Our attention tells them that what's happening to them is important. They can notice situations that cause them stress, or make them happy or sad. They can pay attention to how they're reacting when they meet new people, and distinguish who is trustworthy and who is not. Being attentive to their emotions gives kids a guide to determine which things are good for them and which aren't. This ability to observe emotions helps kids become more thoughtful. Not only will they observe how situations and other people are making them feel, they'll also be more aware of how their own behavior affects others. Kids who can reflect about their emotional reactions can strengthen their positive actions as well as accept their mistakes and learn from them.  

Self Control
When we help kids learn to pause after an emotional reaction we help them consider alternate ways of responding. Emotions are strong motivators for action and being able to stop this push toward action gives us the power to choose the best options. Yet, sometimes this option is not available to us because we have denied what we are feeling.  When we are out of touch with our feelings, our emotional reactions become unpredictable. They happen without our conscious input and rob us of the opportunity to make wise choices. Kids who can identify their emotions and pause before acting strengthen their ability to tolerate frustration. With time and practice they are less likely to respond impulsively and can become good problem solvers. Kids who can pause and consider their feelings are also more likely to express their feelings directly. It is much easier to help a child when we know exactly what's bothering him or her. These skills of sorting their best responses or expressing needs directly gives kids a sense of their own competence. When kids are able to manage their emotions they can extend this control to other situations, at school or home, or with peers or adults.   

Helping kids accept and value their feelings helps them value and respect the feelings

of others. While we are hardwired to recognize emotions in others, this skill needs to be actively cultivated or it atrophies.We can strengthen this skill by helping our kids be kind and caring towards themselves. This means helping them accept their positive as well as their negative emotions. It's easy to accept positive emotions, but much harder to see our kids ashamed, angry or deeply sad. Yet all our emotions serve a purpose. They help kids express the full range of their feelings, which will give them comfort, confidence and emotional flexibility. They will be able to comfort a friend who's sad or be joyful when there's something to celebrate. Kids who are able to establish empathetic connections with others will have relationships that offer comfort, safety and support. These relationship skills will also make them cooperative classmates, teammates and loyal friends.