Kids are emotional, as are many adults. Some, however, are much more emotional than others. How can we teach children to control or "handle" their negative emotions? I don't mean for them not feel the emotion, but just to understand that they themselves are not their emotions, and that they can feel them controllably and calmly.
Chade-Meng Tan, in his book Search Inside Yourself, discusses mindfulness and meditation as a wonderful tool to "control" all aspects of one's life, including emotions. He calls it "emotional intelligence" and suggests that it is one of the best predictors of success at work and fulfillment in life. He states that "mindfulness helps our thinking brain and our emotional brain communicate more clearly to each other, so they work better together."
So, how can you impart this emotional intelligence on your child?
After around the age of three, children begin to understand that they are a person separate from other people. They begin to have the capability to think logically. At this stage, emotional intelligence can be introduced. They, of course, won't be masters at it, but learning this at a young age, or any age in childhood, could help life in so many ways.
I think back to when I was young. I was a twin to a boy and had an older brother. I cried at the drop of a hat. I got upset when I thought someone did not like me. I got angry if I did not get my way at times. I felt my whole body heat up on fire when this anger hit. I did not lash out like some kids, including my older brother, do. I, instead, retreated and dwelled. This was not a happy time when I retreated. Life, in my little mind, was unfair and I dwelled and dwelled. Oh if I only knew about emotional intelligence. If I was taught the techniques that Chade-Meng Tan teaches, I would have had more happiness, more friends, more enjoyment, and better mental clarity.
Teaching this to kids, I believe, will be revolutionary. Sure, we can give them healthy food, healthy chores, responsibility, and guidance, but to help them have emotional intelligence? That will be the key them really mastering their minds. It will affect every thought and emotion throughout their life.
I praise Chade-Meng Tan for introducing this to me and my children. They are now able to be happy most of the time, no matter what obstacle comes at them. How amazing is that? I watch them in awe and wish this for all children.
Back to our question of how do we do this.... Chade-Meng Tan suggests starting them out with attention "training". Mindfulness meditation is the best way to train attention. It is defined by Jon Kabot-Zinn as "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally". To do this, have your child focus on their breathing. Ask them to focus on the breath in, the space between, and on the breath out. I like to visualize a pink rose petal floating away as I exhale, and floating towards my nose as I inhale. I even smell the rose petal in my mind. My youngest child pictures a cloud floating away and towards her. Whatever helps maintain attention to the breathing.
Mindfulness meditation is best done in a relaxed position, but one in which they can remain alert. I have my kids sit in the traditional meditation pose of crossed legged sitting on the floor with an erect posture, but it can be done in a chair. I guide them to think about why they are meditating before we start, and then guide them to focus on their breath. Surprisingly, the younger kids are much less distracted than the older kids. My youngest is 6, and she can meditate for as long as I ask her to without movement. They all know, however, that when a distracted thought enters their minds, that they need to gently return their attention to their breath.
This returning to the breath is the training part.
The more they return their attention to the breath, the stronger the attention "muscle" gets. The stronger the attention gets, the more control they will have over the emotion part of the brain. Start with 2 minutes only to get them used to the idea of focusing on breath. Add a minute every few days up to 20 minutes, unless they wish to go longer, of course. Make it a habit to do it every morning and/or evening.
After a few weeks of attention training, start to discuss emotions with your child. Depending on age, children can learn to understand emotions quite well. Ask them to remember a time when they were angry or sad. Have them discuss where in the body they felt the anger or sadness. Ask them what the trigger was. Have them then imagine themselves as a fly on the wall watching their reaction to the trigger. Ask them what the fly saw. If it was another person that made them angry/sad, ask them what the other person was thinking in their mind and what the fly saw of that person. Taking a look at a situation from all angles helps gain emotional intelligence. It's as though they are watching a TV show and commenting on the actions and reactions of the actors. This separation is important.
For the pre-teens and the teenagers, have them meditate daily and discuss emotions as described above, but also have them journal, in great detail, their past upsets. Journal it from all angles (looking down as the fly, and from the other person or people involved). Have them write a possible response to the negative emotion trigger that would include kindness and forgiveness, and the possible outcome of that reaction instead of what really happened. Rolf Dane, in his book DEEP Clearing, says that when asked to imagine why someone else did what they did, said what they said, or reacted the way they did, it is amazing as to the detail our minds can come up with, and how we can more easily let the incident go from our repressed subconscious mind. Clearing these negative incidents will help reset the default setting of happiness, and allow the brain to focus on more positive things.
Just thinking about why the negative emotion trigger (the action, the statement, the obstacle) happened relieves much of the negative charge your child is unknowingly holding onto, which may be subconsciously making emotions more reactive than would normally be expected. Children that are easily upset, such as the way I was as a child and as a teen, can benefit greatly from this very easy exercise. Have them really see the incident for what it is, and separate themselves from the trigger. Often times, children can see that their reaction was silly or unnecessary.
As journalling progresses, have them journal about their day, looking specifically for the good things that happened. A gratitude journal. Focusing on the positive after the clearing of the past negatives makes more good things happen. It just does. Soon, you will have a happy, self-confident child that seems to attract great friends and good luck wherever he may go. Opportunities will arise more readily, and the mind will be focused enough to see these opportunities.
The earlier children can learn to be mindful, train their attention, and learn to journal their gratitude, the less stress and unhappiness they will experience in life. Depression and anxiety may be a thing of the past if all kids could incorporate this training.
Imagine a world where all children could be happy, confident, and.......