Summary: How parents express and process their emotions can have an impact on their child’s emotional and social development, researchers report.
Source: The Conversation
It can have ripple effects on the next generation by how our families express their feelings, react to them and talk about them.
The models that they have been taught can be incorporated into the parenting style of their children.
A parent’s organized set of thoughts and feelings about their own and their child’s feelings is what some psychologists call “parental meta-emotion philosophy.” Understanding this can make a big difference in parenting and children’s development.
I lead research projects that investigate the usefulness of programs that teach parents how to understand their “feelings about feelings” and guide their children in healthy emotional regulation and coping strategies.
The emotional climate of the family
All of us have a long emotional history that comes from the emotional climate we grew up with. Our early experiences can influence how we feel about emotions and impact our ability to build healthy relationships.
Some parents are good at emotion coaching, which psychologists refer to as emotional coaching.
These parents have learned to recognize and accept their feelings, for example that “it is okay to be sad.” They are aware of their children’s lower-intensity feelings and view their children’s emotional displays as a time for connection and teaching.
Being aware of your emotions
Others parents learn to dismiss their emotions and avoid talking about them. These parents are more likely to avoid feelings of sadness and anger. Emotionally dismissive parents will likely try to make uncomfortable feelings in children go away quickly or brush them off by saying things like “you’ll get over it.”
It is important for children to learn how to recognize, understand and manage their emotions. Studies have shown that parents who have an “emotion coaching” philosophy support their children’s emotional regulation, behaviour and social skills.
The question is, how effective is teaching parents to understand their “feelings about feelings” at improving the family emotional climate and child development outcomes.
Parent education programs teach parents about children’s needs and development and offer them tools to enhance their parenting behaviours. Some parenting classes and programs can be delivered by organizations such as family centres or social services.
Others are offered through medical clinics like pediatricians’ offices. There are many programs that help parents respond to children’s challenging behaviours — for example, teaching parents how to positively reinforce children’s appropriate behaviours.
More recently, some parenting programs have begun to focus on parents’ feelings about feelings: emotion-focused parenting programs. These programs teach parents specific parenting behaviours that support their children’s emotional needs.
One such program is called Tuning in to Kids. It was developed in Australia and teaches parents how to become “emotion coaches” who emotionally connect with their children, label and validate their children’s feelings, and help their children solve problems.
Another example is the Emotional Development version of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, which strengthens relationships and teaches parents how to help their children regulate emotions.
Programs for parenting that are customized
In research with my colleagues, Krysta Andrews, Leslie Atkinson and Andrea Gonzalez, I have examined the effectiveness of emotion-focused programs in a recently published article in Clinical Psychology Review. This article provides strong evidence that emotion-focused parenting programs can enhance parents’ ability to positively socialize their children’s emotional development and maximize positive outcomes for families.
However, there is a need for families, researchers, clinicians and early childhood development policymakers to work together to find out what programs work best, when and for whom.
Some of my work suggests that these programs may especially benefit children and adolescents with complex needs, such as co-occurring mental health problems and neurodevelopmental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Culturally-appropriate programs for children under 2
Some of my research indicates that emotion-focused parenting programs should be adapted or developed for specific populations. Parents of children younger than two years old should be aware that this age can lead to long-lasting emotional or behavioural problems.
And, the way families “feel about feelings” is also influenced by social determinants of health, which include socioeconomic factors like culture, racialization, education, housing and income. Parents of children with different ages and backgrounds should have programs that are culturally appropriate. Emotion-focused programs must be adaptable to accommodate a variety of caregivers, families structures, and backgrounds.
Biology and its effects
Parenting is a biological process — hormones, brain regions and chemical messengers in the brain all support parenting behaviours. Programs that focus on parental meta-emotion philosophy have the groundbreaking ability to change parenting on a behavioural level, but also on a biological level.
Psychology researchers have reason to think that helping parents understand their “feelings about feelings” can change children’s biology. One study found that program content on emotion development was uniquely related to positive changes in emotion-related parenting and children’s brain signals.
These behavioural and biological changes may be passed down through generations.
Families with parents who understand their “feelings about feelings” will have a positive emotional change now and possibly into future generations.
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Author: Gillian England-Mason
Source: The Conversation
Contact: Gillian England-Mason – The Conversation
Image: The image is public domain
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