It’s never too early to begin laying the foundation for emotional maturity. Kids will take on what you, as the parent, create as the norm. I recently witnessed a two year old take a full body breath after she started whining, when her mom guided her to take a breath. It was clear she fully understood what it meant to take a breath and relax her body. If she can do it, we all can do it. So let’s talk about how to help kids develop emotional maturity.
ONE: Help them learn to tolerate uncomfortable sensations
When kids experience something that is uncomfortable, it can throw them for a loop. They don’t really know what to do with the feelings they are experiencing. Start with teaching them to breathe with things from a young age. Model doing this yourself. This can become second nature if you consistently use breathing techniques yourself and redirect them to use them when they are struggling. You can do this using meditation apps to teach and practice breathing.
Here are some examples to use this in everyday life:
- Take a breath and realize it’s OK to feel a little jealous right now that your sister is playing with that toy.
- Take a breath and realize it’s OK if you’re a little chilly right now.
- Or, this is a little hard right now and that’s OK.
Affirm that it’s okay to have feelings that are uncomfortable or make them upset and guide them through a positive way to cope with what they are feeling. They need to understand that the feeling is not the problem, the negative reaction is. Let them see you make a choice to deal with your feelings in a positive way through modeling.
TWO: Model taking responsibility
When I was growing up, apologies weren’t a thing. Maybe because apologies were seen as compromising authority or power. As we evolve, we are seeing that authority or power are not compromised by taking responsibility, instead an apology can enhance power: what bends doesn’t break.
Taking responsibility produces trust and respect. If a kid sees the adults in their life take responsibility or tell someone they are sorry when they are wrong, it will relieve some of the pressure they feel to be perfect because they will see that even adults mess up sometimes. It shows them you are human and this creates an opportunity for them to connect with you and see that no one is perfect.
“Always Say the Words “I’m Sorry”. Sometimes wrong-doers try to repent in other ways. They’ll perform acts of kindness and bestow gifts.” But hearing the words ‘I’m sorry’ feels the most sincere. “Saying you’re sorry concisely and sincerely shows kids that no one is perfect.” (Parents.com | How to Apologize to Your Kids the Right Way—And Why It’s Important , Holly Rizzuto Palker | March 25, 2021)
This doesn’t mean over apologizing or always taking the blame, but modeling appropriate self responsibility. This also builds empathy and communication skills which are crucial for emotional maturity.
Repair communication is an important part of successful relationships that can weather inevitable conflict. This means coming to the table with each person taking responsibility for their own part in the conflict.
For example: When we argued about the trash, I realized that sometimes I have a hard time being patient when I really want to be doing something else. And the other person says: When we argued about the trash, I saw that I could have given you a window of time to do it rather than asking you to do it 20 times and getting more upset each time.
It always takes two to tango. Simplify this with younger kids or start by modeling this kind of communication with others in the house. A good guideline or question can be when you are repairing: what did we learn about ourselves in that interaction?
This teaches self reflection, self responsibility, and conflict resolution skills. This also teaches that conflict can be a source of growth and doesn’t have to be avoided at all costs. Finally, it’s a way to get out of the blame game. Most people point fingers during conflict rather than take responsibility or become more aware of themselves.
Imagine the kind of world we would have if we all handled conflict this way.
THREE: Instill Curiosity
Being curious about feelings vs reactive toward feelings can make a big difference when it comes to the development of emotional maturity. This can start early! Instead of framing feelings as a problem, encourage your kids to embrace them. Accepting them with a sense of curiosity builds self awareness and empathy.
“Talk openly about emotions rather than dismissing or burying them…Never punish a child for feeling sad or angry. Make it clear that all emotions are welcome, and learn to manage them in a healthy way through discussion and reflection.” (Biglifejournal.com | Key Strategies to Teach Children Empathy (Sorted by Age) | By Ashley Cullins, October 22)
Being curious about their feelings doesn’t mean they do not express them, it means they work to understand them and make positive choices about how they will handle them.
When you encourage your kids to be curious and seek to understand their emotions you are creating opportunities for meaningful discussions where you can guide them to create positive coping skills.
Developing emotional maturity early means your kids will be better equipped to handle some of the hard seasons of life that they will encounter as they grow up.
If they become more comfortable with feeling their emotions at a young age they will more than likely feel more stable and confident when they have to work through a social, or personal, challenge.