Marking Children’s Mental Health Week, Nadim Saad, parenting expert, author and Founder of Happy Confident Company, shares his advice on helping kids and families express themselves.
The ability to express ourselves freely and with confidence is a skill that we begin to develop from the moment we start to communicate – even non-verbally as babies.
It is a skill that we can build on at any stage in life, but is best practised, honed and refined in the home, where we are surrounded by those who love us, and where we feel safe.
There are three key areas that families can work on to help their children develop self-belief, self-understanding and self-appreciation – all of which lead to them being able to express themselves with truth, pride and authenticity. All vital factors in nurturing their emotional development and levels of self-confidence – resulting in greater happiness.
Expressive communication: increasing emotional vocabulary
In just one day, we can have a myriad of feelings and emotions. Learning to understand, identify and articulate our feelings is an absolute pillar of self-expression.
The more emotional states an individual understands, the closer they can get to identifying them, being able to share them and, importantly, being able to shift unhelpful feelings to more positive ones.
Research shows that when you can identify and name your feelings, the brain actually processes them better, and this, in itself, helps you feel calmer. And in being able to name feelings and understand them more thoroughly, you have the ability to express yourself more clearly to friends and family.
How people feel is such a vital part of how they express themselves, so the more people practise talking about feelings, the closer they become to being true and authentic beings, living a life of greater freedom through self-acceptance and, therefore, self-expression.
Emotional validation: using empathy
As parents, we have a tendency to try and make our kids feel ‘better’ by reassurance.
When they tell us that they feel ‘bored,’ we try to ‘help’ by telling them that they have loads to do, that they should be grateful for how lucky they are that they have siblings, toys, books, etc.
When they feel ‘down,’ we tell them they shouldn’t worry, that they are not ‘down’ but they are a bit sad, and this will pass. In doing this, we don’t give them space to ‘feel’. We try to reframe their thinking.
What we often don’t realise is that, in doing this, we are making them less inclined to share their feelings in the future. They try to frame things our way, second-guessing what they think we want to hear, rather than expressing themselves openly. In doing so, we are also undermining their sense of ‘self’ and they feel misunderstood.
It is key that we begin to listen to our children, using empathy and validation to allow them to feel wholly understood, heard without judgement.
When kids begin to develop strong emotions, it’s our opportunity to connect with them, and be there for them.
Allow them to trust their feelings, experience strong emotions, and not become overwhelmed by them. So, rather than jumping to try and second guess, or reframe, instead start with connection.
A hug immediately reduces stress and promotes feelings of happiness and relaxation through the release of dopamine in the brain. So, let this be your starting point, giving space to remind yourself to stop and listen.
Don’t deny your children their feelings with phrases such as “It’s not that bad” but, if they are not finding it easy to talk, help them find a way to express themselves based on what you can see:- “I see you are angry”, or “I can tell that you’re very upset”, or if they have fallen, “You seem to be in pain”.
By helping them find the way to discuss and articulate their feelings, to express themselves clearly, you are providing a greater level of support, of trust, of connection. And importantly, you are teaching your child that it’s OK to feel these ways, and fine to express them.
Empower by participation: family meetings
When a family is truly connected and each member feels secure, safe to express themselves fully and transparently, there is nothing better. Every member of that family begins to thrive together, and as individuals.
A great connection tool for on-going self-expression is the Family Meeting, a reunion where each member of the family shares their needs and shares ideas on how to solve ongoing challenges.
Holding regular family meetings can be a great way to build and maintain strong connections. It is a powerhouse for increasing the confidence and self-esteem of children and provides the perfect forum in which to give encouragement and praise, discuss challenges, and how to overcome them.
Furthermore, family meetings provide an invaluable opportunity for each person to have their thoughts heard, and feelings acknowledged.
These meetings enable everyone to have a say and all family members to feel heard.
Creating these meetings provides a platform for open discussion around set matters – whether it’s holiday planning, household rules or simply a look back at the past month.
The most important thing with these meetings is to give them a degree of formality. Where everyone’s views count, no-one can disagree, everyone is listened to, and any decisions made are made together.
This provides kids with a great platform to learn about teamwork, challenges, dealing calmly with conflict, reaching compromise, speaking freely, and listening actively. Skills that help them to understand themselves better, express themselves clearly, and have confidence that their opinions matter, and their thoughts and ideas are worthwhile.
The Happy Confident Company is launching a FREE 7-day Family Challenge in support of Children’s Mental Health Week from 1st-7th February. Across the week they’ll be offering great activities to express yourself better as a family and become more connected.
Sign up now at www.happyconfident.com/member-zone
Nadim Saad, top parenting author and coach