Emotional Wellbeing

Emotional wellbeing comes from how we understand and manage our emotions and also from the relationships we make with others. It is the foundation of our mental health.

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Emotional Competence: our emotions rapid and instinctual reactions to what happens to us. They are signals about the world around us and our reaction to events.  Emotions come from a part of the brain which is not initially linked to our cortex which governs thinking.  Emotional competence is that process of learning to understand and control our emotions. Some people talk about emotional intelligence but this is misleading as it is not inborn but learnt. The term emotional intelligence was first proposed by Salovey and Meyer in 1990. Their model of emotional intelligence is a useful overview of the skills which underpin emotional competence. It shows the 5 skill areas which children need to master to be in control of their emotional wellbeing.

1. Recognising your emotions: being able to monitor your feelings from moment to moment allows you to decide what to do.

2. Managing your emotions: once you can tune into your feelings you can begin to make choices. Is this real? What should I do? You are no longer at the mercy of strong emotions which can undermine what you set out to do

3. Motivating yourself: this is managing the conflict between what might be attractive in the short term and working towards longer term goals. The power of emotions and our attraction to what is available e.g that bar of chocolate, can require considerable restraint.

4. Recognizing emotions in others: empathy allows us not only to recognize what others may be feeling but to take the other person’s perspective which may be different from our own view.

5. Developing and maintaining relationships: love or liking is a good starting point for relationships but at a practical level we need to learn to share and take turns. These  skills develop gradually over the course of childhood and need sensitive adult support.

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All emotions serve a useful purpose and contribute to our survival. We repress or ignore them at our peril. 

Children who are flourishing emotionally have 3 things in common; these vital signs are easy to spot and are a great way to reassure yourself that a child is happy, confident and fully engaged with what life has to offer. Just look out for the 3 E’s: Energy, Enthusiasm, and Enjoyment.

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Energy: This is the healthy life force that allows us to keep busy and feeds our curiosity. It contrasts with the more frantic and aimless bursts of activity fuelled by emotional upsets and adrenaline.   Energy is productive and focused, giving us a zest for life.  Children with a zest for life are full of ideas of things they want to do.  Positive energy gives us bounce and makes us feel good. We smile more and laugh easily.  Positive energy does not tip over into tears and tantrums; in the way that negative and fraught bursts of activity tend to do.

Energy health check

  • Does your child have some free time everyday to just play and be themselves?
  • Do they receive frequent praise and recognition for their efforts at school and at home, especially when they are learning new and difficult skills?
  • Is their time balanced between challenging new tasks, and time to use and enjoy the skills they already have?

Enthusiasm: This comes from feeling good about yourself and having a history of success.  Enthusiasm is linked to confidence and high self esteem.  It comes from knowing your strengths and abilities and having regular opportunities to use what you enjoy and are good at.  Childhood is a time when you are constantly learning and developing.  There is a real danger that children get pushed on to scale the heights of achievement without spending enough time savouring their success.

Enthusiasm health check

  • Does your child talk about what is going well and what they find motivating?
  • Can your child try out new past times and decide whether to pursue that interest further?
  • Is your child able to have some control over their time so that they can counterbalance the organised time adults plan for them with choices of their own?

Enjoyment: This is a peak experience which makes us feel fantastic. Yes, it is true, that you can enjoy an ice cream or a slice of cake. However, the emotional satisfaction from external sources like food does not last long, and can be a weak substitute for the enjoyment we gain from our personal achievement.  Enjoyment is so much more satisfying when we know we are doing our best. Children love to play because it provides both fun and a sense of achievement. Do you remember spending hours practising cartwheels or climbing trees? Did it feel good when you finally got the hang of it and was it fun to keep on trying until you got it right?

Enjoyment health check

  • Does your child have special interests which they have time to enjoy without pressure?
  • Is the list of what has to be done kept in check to allow enough down time?
  • Is there time to follow your child’s lead, to let them show you what is special for them?
  • Do your children see you “in the zone” doing satisfying and valued activities as well as work/chores?

If you want your child to have a boost of energy, enthusiasm and enjoyment try out some of the ideas in this article and see what a difference it makes.

Jeni Hooperis a Child Psychologist and Wellbeing Coach and developed The Flourishing Programme which is available for you in a new book What Children Need To Be Happy, Confident and Successful published in March 2012 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers .


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