Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (December 8, 2016)
Watch your thoughts for they become your emotions; Watch your emotions for they become your words, Watch your words for they become your actions, Watch your actions for they become your habits, Watch your habits for they become your character, Watch your character for it leads to your destiny.
In the last installment of this series, we had looked at the importance in having self-control in one’s thoughts as it really is the beginning of a series of reactions. As said in the poem above, our thoughts will lead to our emotions, which then leads to our words and actions. Repeated actions then leads to habits which form our character; and our character determines our destiny. So it all starts with our thoughts.
It’s possible, and necessary, to train ourselves to have positive and optimistic thoughts despite negative situations. We must use self-control to rein our thoughts from negative ones to positive ones.
The next area we need to ‘watch’ and have self-control in is in our emotions. There are many types of emotions and having emotions is a good thing but we need to be responsible in managing our emotions. For example, there are situations where it is okay to feel mad but it is not okay to hit someone because you feel mad.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” (CASEL, 2016). Being an individual with social-emotional competencies will reap rewards on a personal and relational level. Studies have shown that people who receive SEL training have higher academic results, have better emotional health, better employment opportunities and much more.
In helping children manage their emotions, they first have to be able to identify their emotions. So, in my view, having self-control in emotions comes in 3 parts:
1. Identifying emotions
The first part to dealing with emotions is to first identify what emotion one has. This requires having an extensive knowledge of the different types of emotions there are, what the emotion ‘looks like’, what kinds of things could cause that emotion and how to recognize it if someone else has that emotion. So for example, someone who is happy may have a big smile, ‘smile wrinkles’ around the eyes and may have arms in the air. One could feel happy from receiving good news and generally feeling positive. Young children may only know how to identify a handful of emotions like happy, sad or angry but it’s important that with age, they learn about identifying different emotions such as disappointed, frustrated, excited, nervous, and neglected. Being able to name these emotions is the first part of dealing with emotions. One point to highlight is that there aren’t ‘bad emotions’. There are negative emotions such as disappointed, angry, mad but they shouldn’t be articulated to children that these emotions are bad to have. These emotions feel bad but they’re not bad to have. Every emotion is valid to be felt but it’s more about processing and understanding more about these emotions.
2. Understanding emotions
After identifying which emotion is being felt, it’s then important to understand why this emotion has come about. What are some events that led to this emotion being felt? Who are some people involved in bringing about this emotion? This process of analyzing one’s emotions will help with understanding this emotion. This is a process that takes time of reflection and isn’t something that should be rushed through. As adults, it’s important that we show empathy for the emotion that is being experienced. For example, to say “I know you must feel disappointed that you didn’t get invited to the party” as opposed to “why are you upset? You have so many other parties to go to.” Showing empathy is a way to show a child that you understand his/her emotions.
3. Expressing emotions
No emotion is bad to have but sometimes the expression of an emotion can be bad. For example, it is okay to feel mad when someone takes your things and breaks it but it’s not okay to express that madness by taking that person’s things and breaking it as revenge. Whether it’s harming oneself (e.g. hitting oneself in anger) or hurting others (e.g. shouting at someone in anger), emotions should not be expressed in ways that are harmful. And self-control is required in this process. Help your child to find ways that help him/her calm down. For some, it may be to take time to be alone to reflect and for others it may be to go for a run and for others it may be to listen or play music. Help your child find strategies that help in expressing emotions in a constructive and controlled way. And remember that each child is unique so each child’s way of dealing with emotions will be different.
Watch your emotions for they become your words. More to come in following columns…