Talking to kids about feelings helps them build emotional intelligence. What does that mean anyway? Emotional intelligence is the basic skill of labeling and recognizing feelings withing oneself as well as others. The latter portion crosses into the realm of empathy somewhat, which is a skill children do not develop until around second or third grade and continues to develop throughout the life.
Humans are pre-wired to feel and respond to feelings. This makes sense since our infants are of the most vulnerable and for a long period of time. The attachments we form as humans are integral to our survival. As society has developed so has technology and has diverted our attention and opportunity to teach our children to develop the attachment and social skills they need to function in intimate relationships or even at work.
So, your family is suddenly going through a hard time, like a divorce, and it is time to start having regular discussions with your child about the changes, their thoughts and their feelings, where do you start? For most of their life emotional intelligence is something that you just thought would come, or maybe it never crossed your mind at all. Life bring surprises and fantastic opportunities for growth. Refocus from being hard on yourself and unsure to seizing the moment to bond with your kiddo.
To answer the question of where to start, begin to look for natural times in your day to fit in quality time. For families with young kids bedtime seems to be easy or bath time works just as well. Folks with older kids may find dinner or going for a walk ideal.
Start by labeling and normalizing you own feelings around the change/topic. This is called modeling. In the case of divorce, a parent can say something like, “This is a very sad situation. I miss the relationship I had with your mom/dad. I really loved him/her, I know you still do and that’s okay.”
Something like this communicates that feelings are complicated and okay to have as well as opens space for the child to love their other parent too. This way they will be willing to share more, and honestly.
The most important skill as a parent or step parent is developing your ability to put your own opinions aside and realize this child is half of you as well as half of the other parent. At some point, you loved and were attracted to them. Use those thoughts to find something to respect to keep anger and resentment at bay. Focus on what you have control over, your internal world.
Families are VERY complex which makes each family akin to a fingerprint, no two are the same. Take what applies to you from these posts and remember because you are seeking information you are already developing as a parent!