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How to foster your child’s emotional security during challenging times

July 8, 2020
How to foster your child’s emotional security during challenging times

I want my child to still feel connected to their extended family and friends even in times of isolation and distance. 
What can I do to support my children? 

Answered by Psychologist Lisa Jones and Speech Pathologist Genevieve Ward.

Belonging and love are two vital elements to developing a child’s emotional security.   

Family affection and quality relationships help to feed this need and children learn that their world is safe because they belong and are deeply loved. Many of us, including our children, have been experiencing high levels of anxiety and uncertainty whilst we discover a new way to live. It has been a whirlwind of a past few months, with families learning to homeschool their children and somehow continue to juggle work demands.  Many of our families have continued to provide for their children’s needs including  nutritious  food, clean clothes and a warm bed and now, even a homeschool education; but perhaps more easily pushed to the side has been fostering their child’s emotional security.    

Challenging times and changes in routines can bring about big emotions, which, in turn, can contribute to difficult behaviours. It can be hard when our tolerance and patience are low to be able to understand why our children may be behaving in challenging ways that push our buttons more than usual. Our children’s patience and tolerance are also likely to be low, and they may be having big reactions to small problems that they usually would have been able to manage.

It is important during these times to remember that our children’s behaviour is their way of communicating. During moments of difficult behaviours (e.g.: outbursts, tantrums, meltdowns and defiance or attitude) I encourage you to take some time to consider, “What is my child trying to tell me?”. Whilst it is tempting to jump right into problem-solving mode, sometimes it is important to remember connection before correction, and view your child’s emotional expressions as a chance to connect, learn and grow together. 

The process is called emotion coaching and involves 5 key steps: 

  1. Notice your child’s emotion – what are they feeling? 
  2. See this moment as a chance for connection, teaching and learning together  
  3. Listen and validate your child’s feelings – let them know it’s okay for them to feel what they feel  
  4. Help your child to name their feeling 
  5. Try and work on solving the problem together 

You can practice emotion coaching when you are feeling calm and ready to support your child. Remember, just as a child needs coaching to help them improve their soccer or footy skills, they also need coaching to help them to manage big feelings and emotions.  

During this time, one of the biggest challenges families have faced is being forced to stay apart, which has led to big emotions such as grief, loss and uncertainty. Loved ones have compensated by arranging regular face times, zoom sessions or speaking to loved ones via the phone. The question I pose is, “Is this enough for our young to build their sense of belonging?”. Just recently,  I had a family ask me, “what can I do so my children won’t forget their family?” It sparked an immediate flame.   

How do our children understand they are still part of a larger network of loved ones when they have reduced interactions and time spent with them?   

Here are some ideas to support your child’s sense of belonging during isolation:   

  • regularly talk about them in lots of different ways  
  • look at pictures of loves ones and talk about them   
  • make a little book about who is in your family tree   
  • try copying or drawing pictures of family  
  • create stick characters and act out a family dinner with them all coming over  
  • cook recipes from loved ones and talking about how Aunty Susan makes the best apple crumble!   
  • dress up like Grandma  
  • do similar activities that our extended family does. You might say, “Let’s do some gardening like Uncle Rex does. He likes to grow his own vegetables. We can do this too?”   

Always remember that nurturing your child’s emotional development and their sense of belonging helps to build their confidence in trying new things and ability to learn about their world!    

Good luck building on this concept and we would love to hear how you go.   

For more information on emotion coaching, please visit: https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-introduction-to-emotion-coaching/