One of the most important skills that we can teach our children is emotional competence.
Children who are emotionally competent do better at school, have more friends, are better liked by their teachers, and are more likely to help others.

What exactly is emotional competence? It is the ability to understand, express and regulate our emotions. Parents can help children be emotionally competent by talking about emotions with them. The more we talk about emotions with our children, the more emotionally competent they will become.

Here are a few things that you can tell your children to help their emotional competence:

  1. I am here for you, no matter how you feel
    Children experience many different emotions and sometimes these emotions are accompanied by guilt or shame. Let’s imagine for example, that a child is incredibly jealous because his best friend made it to the school football team and he didn’t. He may also feel ashamed or guilty because he knows that he shouldn’t be jealous. If we tell him that we are by his side no matter what he is feeling, we are allowing him to feel whatever he is feeling. He may open up and discuss his feelings with us or with others and doing this is incredibly positive for their mental health.

  2. Why are you behaving this way? Let’s think about how you are feeling
    The way we behave is a result of our emotions. So, it is important that we help our children understand that depending on how they feel, they will behave in one way or another. For example, if we point to our teenager that when she does not get enough sleep, she becomes very moody and irritable, she may choose not to go to bed earlier (as teenagers usually do) but at least she will be aware of this link between emotions and behaviours. She now can decide that whenever she has an important day ahead of her, she needs to go to sleep early.

  3. How you feel right now won’t last forever
    Sometimes children experience intense negative feelings (e.g., sadness, anger, jealousy…) and they think that they will feel that way forever. It is very important to teach them that feelings don’t last forever, and that their intensity goes down as time goes by. This is a very important idea to remind children at times when they are feeling very bad and it seems to them that those emotions will never go away. By telling them that those feelings won’t last forever, we are protecting them against engaging in harmful behaviors such as self-harm.

  4. It is OK to feel what you are feeling
    Children and adolescents want to fit in. They need to feel that they are ‘normal’. By telling them that there is nothing weird about what they are feeling, we are normalising their emotions and we are making them feel that they fit in just fine.

    Something that tends to help children is telling them that you remember feeling that way when you were their age. When my son was about eight, he went through a period of feeling anxious on Sunday evenings when thinking about the school week ahead of him. By telling him that I remembered feeling that way, and that I remembered having a knot in my stomach (which was exactly what he was feeling), his emotions were normalized and although they didn’t go away, he felt that there was nothing wrong with him, and that it was OK to feel that way.

  5. Don’t let your feelings control you
    To some extent, we can control our feelings. This is called emotion regulation and the best way to do it, is by changing the way we think about what we are feeling. For example, if a teenager is moving cities because his mum changed jobs, he will probably feel a mix of sadness, anger, and anxiety. The best way to control those feelings is to help him consider his evaluation of the situation, which is something he can control. We can tell him that he has two options: one is not to do anything and continue feeling miserable. The other option is to acknowledge that even if this move was not his choice, it can be a new opportunity to get to know a new city, make more friends, and become more resilient. We need to remind our children that we can control how we evaluate the situations we are going through. The situation they are experiencing may not be his choice, but how they evaluate that situation is his choice.

  6. Let’s put a name to that feeling
    Very often and especially in the case of young children, they experience emotions but they do not know how to name them. It is important that we take a moment to put a label on their emotions because children tend to feel better just by doing so. Labelling their emotions also helps children understand the cause of that emotion, and next time they feel that way, they will be better able to understand what is going on.

So, just remember that it is very important to discuss emotions with your children. The more you do this, the more emotionally competent your children will become. Don’t forget that emotional competence is a super important skill to have in life. The more emotionally competent children, the better they tend to do.

If you are interested in this topic, don’t forget to watch Professor Harriet Tenenbaum’s REC masterclass.

I hope this info helps. If you have queries or comments, do drop us an email at:

Much love,

Dr Ana Aznar

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