Are Your Kids Happy? Checking Their Social-Emotional Health

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Part 1

Do you think your children are generally happy? Is their self-esteem at a healthy level? Do they have a good awareness of their emotions and are empathetic towards others? Do they have a healthy balance of in-person social interaction versus interaction with peers, online through gaming, or social media? Or do they have very little interaction with others at all?

How is Your Child’s Emotional Health?

As I raise my four girls, I am constantly asking myself if I think they are happy. I wonder if they are emotionally healthy too? How are they feeling? Am I doing everything I can to help them become well-rounded individuals? What brings them joy? What do they love? What are their hopes and dreams in life? Oh, I have a million questions I ask myself about raising my kids.

I just want them to be happy, healthy, and successful in whatever they choose to do. Don’t we all want something like that for our kids? The question is, how can we be sure that we are giving them everything they need. Well, we can’t truly be sure. I can only hope they are caring, strong individuals, but then life happens.  I worry about an obstacle they’ve had to overcome or a disagreement we’ve had. I worry I have said something out of frustration that could damage their self-esteem or confidence. 

Being a parent isn’t easy. We can only do things the best way we know how. We hope that they are able to use the tools we’ve given them to help them live their best life. I want to live my best life! I want my kids to also!

How Do We Know If We’re Doing A Good Job?

It’s hard to know how your relationship with your child will unfold. I just hope that mine remains solid. The teenage years are quickly approaching my older daughters. I can’t help but think about what that could mean and look like in our home. If I take time to nurture our relationship now, will we become closer? Then, maybe things won’t be so bad during the bumpiest of teenage years. At least that’s what I hope to happen.

I’ve read several books in the past years about children and discipline. Lately, I’ve shifted to reading more books about a healthy state of mind and understanding their brain development. These days, there seems to be more that stands in the way of children becoming emotionally, healthy people. Our digital world is not helping with matters. We all know it’s not going away. So we may as well find a way to make it work in our lives but not take over. Many other increasing outside influences can add to stress in kids as well.

Every generation of kids is different. This must be why we end up sounding like our parents saying something like “things just aren’t the way they were when we were kids.” It’s true! They aren’t. Kids still need a lot of the same things. Although I hate to admit it, it has been a long time since I was a kid. So there are a lot of differences. 

There’s Good News

The good news is that there is ongoing research to continue to find ways to improve children’s emotional health. There are so many ideas available no matter what your beliefs are on raising your kids in this big wide world. You only have to be willing to put in the extra work to learn new ways to parent if the old ways are no longer working. Sometimes it is merely trying something new, tweaking your routine, or approaching a situation in a different way. It’s never too late to try. 

Having Conversations

As a mother, I’m always trying to understand my own children. As a teacher, I enjoy getting the chance to know my students too. Because I don’t see my students outside of school, I like having conversations with them to find out what makes them tick. I like talking to them about life and where they find joy outside of school.

School can be difficult. Some of the toughest student relationships inside the classroom are softened once you step outside of the building. A few extra minutes spent chatting about topics that aren’t school-related can open up a child who might not usually talk. The same can be said at home. Finding time to talk outside of your daily routine may get your child to open up. They will find that you do genuinely care about them and it could mean a lot to them.

Taking the time to talk to kids is a big thing. Letting them steer the conversation, or asking about something that interests them, allows them to feel comfortable talking openly. They feel like you care. One of my daughters isn’t always the chattiest of kids. When I ask her about something I know she really likes, or to show me how to do something she enjoys, boy does she open up. I try my best to be quiet and listen. Sometimes it can be hard as a parent to just listen.

For example, I’m really not a fan of video games. However, if I listen and give it a try (like I would want them to do for me), I may have more of a chance to get her to listen or talk to me later when she usually may not want to.

Discussion vs. Dialogue

In the Fall, I attended a webinar called “Work-Life Balance in Chaos” given by Joe Johnson from The Telein Group. The webinar addressed issues around maintaining a balance between work and life. At the time, many of us were still getting used to working from home. Just a hint: A work-life balance is not possible. I listened intently to find out the secret to balancing my life and work. Something else was said that stuck out and made my ears perk up even more. 

He spoke of three words, “discussion, percussion, and dialogue.” We know discussion and dialogue have to do with talking, but where does the word percussion fit in? To better understand, I did a little of my own research. I also reached out to Joe.

The “Cussions”

Both discussion and percussion come from the same roots, both ending with “cussion,” which is not a word on its own of course, but means to “shake, shake out” or “break.” When we have a discussion, we talk about different ideas. We’re breaking down our thoughts and explaining them, “shaking out” our ideas. Sometimes this leads to an informal debate. It makes me think about when we talk with friends. Our conversations are usually exchanging ideas or experiences centered around a topic, and sometimes there’s a small debate about our thoughts or beliefs.

If “cussion” is to “shake” or “break,” and percussion is when we hit or strike something, making a loud noise, then maybe that’s what it could sound like when we talk with our kids. It could feel like we are coming in loud, banging like a drum. We’re always telling them what they should or shouldn’t be doing. We have to do this as a parent, but as our kids grow and have their own opinions and want to be heard, maybe there’s a different way to approach some of these conversations. Having a discussion is not coming to a place of shared meaning. I bet, as soon as we open our mouths, they think “uh oh, what did I do,” or “what will they lecture me on now?”

Having Dialogue

Instead, we want to have dialogue. Joe described dialogue as a stream running between two banks. Instead of discussion, we need to move to a dialogue, getting to a point of shared meaning. This makes sense in all areas of life where we have conversations. As I listened, I could not help but think of my growing girls and how they are slowly beginning to express their own thoughts and opinions.

Have you ever heard your kids say, “you’re going to say no anyway” or something similar? Then maybe it’s time to think about how we talk with our kids. I hate hearing that line, but sometimes, the fact is, it’s a “no” no matter what, but maybe I could go about it a different way. Or, allow them to share their thoughts and feelings on the matter. We can hopefully come to a point of shared meaning where we understand and value what each other is saying.

Keeping the Dialogue Open

Dialogue works better than a discussion as our children get older. Their personalities develop, and they want to express their opinions and wants. As children move into the teen years, they may be willing to continue talking with us if we allow them to be a part of the dialogue instead of talking at them. The last thing they want is us explaining, lecturing, and having conversations they don’t feel like they have much of a say in. Yikes, I need to look at my own parenting style. 

Just the other day, I was scrolling on social media. A mom asked if she was saying the right things to her teenage son. The grandparents were in disagreement with her. Another mom chimed in. She commented that the dialogue she had with her son was the best thing she could do. There was that word “dialogue” again. I thought back to my workshop, and the mom who commented was right! It can make all of the difference. In the end, children are going to do what they want whether we like it or not. If you keep the dialogue open, then kids are more willing to listen, and take what you say into consideration. 

Checking In

There was another topic mentioned in the workshop that I am pretty familiar with, and really resonated with me. Joe said to check in your baggage first so that you can have the meeting. I know we’re not talking about the adult workplace but has your child ever wanted to tell you something sooo bad, and no matter how busy you were or how many times you asked them to wait, they still tried to tell you? Or, they’re acting out for some reason, and until you address the problem, the behavior continues.

Take the Moment

Take the moment, and let them tell you whatever it is that is bothering them. It probably takes less time for them to say it, rather than us continuing to ask them to wait. They’ll be more willing to listen now that they have whatever it was off their chest. Also, sometimes what isn’t a big deal to us, is a big deal in a kid’s world. 

It’s the same when I’m in the classroom. Sometimes I’m so preoccupied with getting started on time or finishing up a lesson. If I only stopped for a few minutes to let the students check in. Then they’d be more ready to listen to the lesson. I have made it a point to check in with my students every day. They tell me the number on the chart that corresponds with their feelings. All they have to do is hold up their fingers. Those who’d like to share why they feel that way, do.  

To Share, or Not to Share

Whether or not they share, it allows me to quickly understand where my students are at emotionally. I can keep a closer eye on students that just might need a little extra attention that day. They might want to have a conversation about what’s bothering them. Sometimes they just want to share something they’re excited about.

We should encourage kids to share and give words to their feelings. They may be more willing to share once they’ve entered the years they are less likely to want to. People always tease about talking about your feelings. However, if you learn to better express and understand your feelings, then you can begin to find the best ways to address them. It can lead to better conversations and more peaceful ones too when you understand where you or someone else is coming from. You can grab the check-in chart here with a few extras.

There’s More

I am very passionate about children. I love to learn how to better myself to be a better parent, teacher, or role model. I am in no way perfect, but I do care very deeply about kids. I feel it deep in my bones to serve them the best way I can. I’ll do it the best way I know how, whether it is teaching, creating, or anything else. I want children to know that they are loved, that they can have a good life, and there’s always someone around that they can count on to help them if they need it. So look out for Part 2, where I dive deeper into emotional needs, emotional awareness, and empathy.

A journal for kids

In the meantime, I created a journal called My Happiness Journal so children would be able to discover their emotions. They would also be able to check in with themselves. This journal also encourages kindness and the importance of getting outdoors. There’s a lot packed into it, but I think kids can have some fun with it!

As always, thank you for visiting my blog! I hope to see you back again for more of “The Adaptable Mom.”

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