How much do you talk about feelings with your children? When you do, it builds their empathy skills and emotional literacy and helps them get along better with other children.
Emotional insight is the ability to sense emotions in yourself, in others, and to understand the dynamic interaction of the two. While these tips here are short and concise to accommodate your busy schedules, the process of developing emotional insight takes time and diligence. Here are three quick tips to integrate small doses of emotional insight practices into your daily family lives.
Create an emotionally rich home environment
The first step to helping your kids develop emotional insight is to create the time and space within your family to talk about emotions. The patterns that you set for your kids at home will stay with them for life, and emotional insight is one of the most critical life skills you can teach. Fundamental to emotional insight is the skill of deep listening. Through deep listening, we can start to develop self awareness and the awareness of others.
Try this: Practice deep listening with your child. Decide who will speak first.
You can encourage your child to 1) talk about a recent difficulty, 2) something he is looking forward to, or 3) how he is feeling right now. Instruct him to just share whatever comes to mind about the topic. You will have two or three minutes each. While the first person shares, the other simply listens from the heart, putting aside thoughts or commentaries, just being totally present for the other.
After both have shared, reflect on the experience. Was it difficult or easy? Did you feel really listened to? If so, how did this feel in your body or mind?
Map emotions in your body
Teach your child to be curious about emotions in her body. For children, one of the most concrete ways to talk about feelings is to describe their physical manifestation in their bodies. Do you ask your child, “Where are you sensing anger in your body? “Are you sensing it in your head, heart, hands, stomach, other?” “How would you describe the sensations as a metaphor (a knot in your stomach, your face feeling like burning charcoal, your head erupting like a volcano)?”
Try this: When tucking your child in to sleep at night, do a Body Scan exercise where you help her to relax each part of her body progressively, starting with her feet all the way to her head. Body scan at bedtime gets kids to tune into their own bodies, starting with a time when they are calming down; and eventually, they will learn to tune into their bodies during waking hours without your prompting.This practice has reduced our family bedtime routine by a whole 30 minutes each night. It is now a favorite part of our family’s daily routine.
Strengthen the human “wi-fi”
Encourage your children to be curious about reading emotions in other people. Did you know that there is a “wi-fi” connection between all of us that enables us to feel the emotions of another? For example, when you witness someone being upset, your mirror neurons fire off and enable you to experience the same distress in your body. So we all have capacity to connect with one another; but like all muscles in our body, we need to increase capacity through practice. Being able to read others’ facial expressions, tone of voice, posture and gestures is one way to learn to decode the language of emotions.
Try this: Play the “Mirror Neuron” game as a family. One member will be the actor and decide on an emotion that she would act out, the rest of the family would mimic this emotion, with facial expressions, posture, and gestures. As a team, the family guesses what emotion(s) the actor is feeling. Rotate until everyone has a chance to be an actor and a guesser. Reflect on the ways each role is similar and different. What did you learn about your ability to read body language? For more help with reading universal body language, check out the BodyTalks cards, a tool to help enhance the skill of reading body language.
Finally, here are three resources for expanding your parenting EQ:
Vietnamese monk and activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, on the value of deep listening in a larger context: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ9UtuWfs3U.
A fascinating study by a group of Finnish scientists on how different emotions map in our bodies.
A summary from a Six Seconds’ Master class with leading neuroscientist, Marco Iacoboni, on mirror neurons.
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