by Dr. Lisa Lenhart, Ph.D.; Child Psychologist
Children’s Mental Health Week (May 5-10) is a time to reflect on children’s ability to know what they are feeling and to manage or express these feelings to others. There are ways to help our kids develop the emotional intelligence and understanding they need to develop positive self-esteem and positive relationships with others. In this fast-paced society, it is easy to overlook a child’s fears or feelings about certain situations, as we are encouraging them to be on time for the next activity, to finish homework, and to be ready for the day or for bedtime.
If we take the time to slow down the process, we allow our children the opportunity to express feelings they might be having about a situation that occurred at school or an activity they are about to undertake. Providing the space and place for talking about feelings teaches kids that feelings are important and that expressing the feelings decreases internal tension. Another element to emotional intelligence is being able to reflect on how other people are feeling in a situation and how others might be seeing our behaviors. Discussing situations that have occurred with friends or at school provides an avenue for parents to offer a different perspective and provide alternative ways of perceiving the other person’s behaviors or actions.
This process can then help kids build the inner capacity for reflection on their own feelings and actions, as well as reflection on other people’s feelings and actions, allowing them to act in ways that are respectful of all people. Children who do not process their own feelings and reflect on situations that occur can become more depressed and/or anxious, as the inner tension builds, they feel misunderstood, and they have a harder time understanding why people act in the way that they do. There are times when children’s level of depression and anxiety increase even with this reflective time, and this may be when a parent chooses to contact a counselor to help their child learn to better manage the emotions they experience.
Taking the time to promote positive mental health and emotional intelligence in childhood goes a long way, and carries through to adulthood, as the individual learns to interact with greater maturity and respect, leading to positive feelings about themselves and others.