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How to help children manage their emotions in a healthy manner

Children can learn to control their emotions at an early age. Research has shown that when parents recognize the negative emotions – anger or sadness – experienced by their children and help them deal with them, in time children learn to exert better physiological control over their own emotions and to display a much more positive behavior.

On the other hand, when parents ignore, discipline or get angry with their children for expressing their emotions – I have seen a lot of parents getting angry with their children for being irascible –, at the end of the day children reach the conclusion that some of the emotions they feel are not supposed to be shared and start repressing them. As a result, they will undergo a lot of physiological and psychological stress, because those emotions remain bottled up and turn into an obstacle to building a basic trust between children and adults.

Postpartum depression affects babies as well

Emotions experienced by children was the topic of the dialogues between the Dalai Lama and the western scientists published in the series “Mind and Life” and subsequently included in the book “Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama”, by Daniel Goleman.

Dr. Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry who attended these dialogues, explains what is going on with children’s emotions.

Until the age of one, whenever they are angry or annoyed, instead of turning to their mother, some children avoid contact with her. According to Davidson, these children experience an approach-avoidance conflict when it comes to establishing physical and emotional contact. Experts found out that when ignored, children with such problems fail to develop a healthy strategy to deal with their own emotions.

Secondly, one of the most important elements that affect children emotionally is maternal depression.

“Mothers who suffer from depression are sad and listless; later on, their children will develop aggressive behaviours, anxiety, and depression. Adults suffering from depression show a lower activation of the left frontal lobe. The same pattern appears in depressive mothers, as shown by the studies performed by Geraldine Dawson. Her research has also shown that children under the age of one whose mothers suffer from depression show the same lower activation of the left front cortex,” Dr Richard Davidson points out.

Therefore, according to psychologists, children with depressive mothers experience fewer positive emotions and display an abnormal brain activity pattern even in their infancy.

What is most important in all this is that relationships established at an early age determine the future social and emotional development of a child.

Parents’ care and affection are essential for their children’s health

The amount of positive emotions (such as joy) experienced throughout the relationships established at an early age is vital for the child’s brain to develop the correct pathways.

Today we know that each growth stage is important to the emotional development of a human being, which is why we must start working on our emotions from the very beginning.

“Briefly, if babies feel good, they will develop the brain circuits that will enable them to experience positive feelings such as joy their entire lives. Later, Dalai Lama confessed to me that he was very excited about this discovery. He often mentioned this biological need for affection as a central element of his humanitarian vision on ethics. He was convinced that people felt a biological need to be looked after – a need that is similar to the biological need for food. Now his belief had received scientific support,” says Dr Richard Davidson.

The third important element refers to the way social and emotional deficiencies on a more general level affect a child’s brain.

According to Davidson, these deficiencies may affect the dopamine levels and thus interfere with the development and malleability of the brain. Therefore, the increasing number of children all over the world living in orphanages deprived of the affection and the close emotional bonds typically shared by parents and children should be a matter of great concern.

Children should receive constant appreciation

When we look at this gloomy picture, it is no wonder that serious behavioural problems surface more and more frequently. “Praising children is one of the most efficient methods to help them correct their behaviour. For instance, if you praise a child first and then you admonish for his or her mistakes, by saying: «You are a very smart kid, you can correct this situation», this will give the child a lot of self-confidence,” says Dalai Lama.

Although you might think praising will encourage children to overestimate themselves, apparently it will not. Dalai Lama explains this too:

“Animal trainers who work with circus animals, be they lions or tigers – or even killer whales – do not resort to punishment as the only training technique. They always use positive incentives, for example giving fish to the whale. Physically, people are not particularly strong beings, but our minds are extremely powerful; therefore, the best way to change people is through genuine kindness. Praising is a way to make a child happy.”

A research performed 30 years ago shows that if a teacher smiles while teaching, the students will retain more than they would if the teacher did not smile. Disturbing emotions interfere with the ability to receive and understand information. An irascible child is unable to study properly and this leads to a vicious circle – the parents will scold the child, and the child will be the only one who will lose.

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Practicing meditation is healthy for children

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