'How you teach a child to deal with their emotions can have long term consequences'

Eimear Hutchinson shares some advice on a developmental milestone which her six year old daughter has reached and how they are navigating it together
'How you teach a child to deal with their emotions can have long term consequences'

Keeping communications open with your children is key, says Eimear Hutchinson.

MY six-year-old has recently reached an interesting developmental milestone.

I would generally consider her an easy-going child, the kind that breezes through the day without dwelling or over-analysing much. Lately, she has started to become more aware of her thoughts about other people and if they are unkind or critical thoughts about someone else it leaves her upset. I suspect some of the real learning is the fact she realises that the thoughts she has, if they were voiced, would hurt someone’s feelings.

Sometimes it feels like the challenges we face as parents during the baby and toddler years are well documented with lots of tips and tricks available on how to deal with stages like teething or weaning. The stages they go through later in childhood are not always as commonly talked about, but they are equally challenging, maybe even more so. It’s not an unusual thing for a six or seven year old to go through, it’s a normal emotional development that many of them, if not all go through.

To help my daughter manage her feelings, as always, we keep the lines of communication open. 

I am glad as a parent she was able to voice her concerns and worries to me in the first place and we have a positive rapport built up over the last few weeks that is really helping her cope with how she feels.

When she has a thought that doesn’t sit well with her, she can tell me if she wants, but she doesn’t have to, there is no pressure. It is great because it gives us the opportunity to deal with the thought, and so that I can reassure her they are normal thoughts.

The first step I find is to normalise the feeling, so she doesn’t feel bad for thinking the way she does. Once we have rationalised the thought the next step is to equalise it. This is probably the part of the process that is working best for her because it is a little coping mechanism that she can use anywhere, even if I am not around. If she has an unkind thought about someone, she has to balance out that thought by thinking of something nice about that person.

As a parent, it is an interesting experience to witness and to help a child through. 

It feels like a big deal because empathy is such an important trait, therefore I feel like this is a huge parenting step we need to get right.

It is a funny thing sometimes to reflect on parenting, when they were small and we were knee deep in worry about teething or wondering if we should get rid of the soothers, at the time those feel like monumental challenges. And they were then, when we had nothing to compare those encounters to.

However, I find as my children get older you begin to realise that handling emotions is a far trickier thing to do. The impact of how you teach a child to deal with their emotions can have such long term consequences on how they will grow up as people, and that is huge. I find it so daunting.

And sometimes there is no quick fix when it comes to emotional development. The milestones you coach them through when they are younger feel more finite, when you’re finished potty training you’re finished but if your child starts to have problems with bullies or has bouts of anxiety, for whatever reason, it can take months to sort it out and the after-effects can impact them for years to come.

The last few weeks has really made me think about not just how children deal with and process their critical thoughts, it has made me keenly aware of how adults process and deal with their critical thoughts too. We live in a very polarised and highly charged world now. More than ever we find ourselves in situations where we don’t agree with people, both in the real world and online, and lately it seems like those two worlds are becoming increasingly more entangled.

People have such easy access to anonymity online that some can be very quick to vocalise their unkind thoughts, with little consideration to the person receiving it. Over the last year, children of all ages have had much more access to the internet for schooling and communication and it is becoming trickier as a parent to protect them from nastiness online. Now I don’t let my children wander through Facebook comments or have access to contacting people I don’t know about, nastiness can sometimes simply sit in the headlines on news articles, it is everywhere. 

So while we all have a right to free speech, we also have a responsibility to conduct ourselves with kindness online.

The last piece of advice I have given my six-year-old, and it is probably the most important, is to not vocalise her unkind thoughts if they will do nothing only serve to hurt and offend the person they are about. Useful advice for us all to hear.

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