By Kaelanne Jordan
The Episcopal Delegate for the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC), Tricia Syms has observed there are three emotions persons commonly refer to: good, bad, and angry.
“How do we give people more language… Can we have that conversation now about feelings, especially with children in this 5–9 years age group?” Syms questioned during The AFLC’s series ‘Health and Family Life Education: The Parent Edition’ episode four, August 16.
Responding to this, President of Communities Alive Education and Training (CAET), Tonia Gooding identified this 5–9 age group as the “crucial” age of helping children identify what emotions they are feeling, how to manage them, how their emotions/actions affect others and in turn, how others’ emotions affect theirs.
A mother to five sons, Gooding observed that this was not a “strength” among her sons. “I think females are more in tuned with their emotions, even at that age, whereas most of the times my boys would say, ‘I’m feeling good or bad’. Very narrow vocabulary. So, it’s up to us as parents to help in terms of drilling down a little bit: ‘So what exactly happened to make you feel this way?’ …Give them options and help them connect the emotions with the actual word that they are feeling. And of course, that goes on from how you feel, how you make others feel and how you affect the emotions of others within your community and environment,” Gooding said.
Commenting on this, Syms spoke of those children who do not have parents at home to help them label their emotions. She also spoke of children between the ages 7–8 who display tantrums “in a big way”.
“What might be happening here?” she questioned. Gooding responded that virtues, or good habits are “caught”, rather than taught. However, self-control does require an adult present to mediate and “set the stage” of what behaviour is acceptable and how to manage them.
She referred to a theory proposed by Dr Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, and founding Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.
His theory – which is also incorporated in the Alive to the World training programme – is that when children display tantrums, the role of the adult present is to stop it. This, Gooding underscored, can only be effectively managed if the parent, too, has developed the virtue of self-discipline.
Using the analogy of a car, Gooding explained, “It is like the accelerator of the car is being pressed and the role of the parent is to press the brake. So, what we do as parents, whether by reprimand, a stern word, by the look… that stops the action, causes our children to pause, look around to see, ‘Am I supposed to stop that [behaviour]?”
In that moment when the tantrum ceases, the parent now has the opportunity to “reconnect” with their child “either by explanation, letting them calm their emotions etc…. So, what the child is learning is that that action my parents did not like, but if I change my activity, they will reconnect with me, and everything will work out.” She asserted each time this approach is practised, the behaviour will eventually wane.
CAET Administrator Elizabeth Inniss gave an example of exercising self-control in her household. She spoke of the ‘count to ten’ approach that she uses with her children. She observed that parents too, “need to step back and count to ten. Breathe… and then you can approach them….”
According to Gooding, the 5–9 age group is also the age to focus on developing the formation of conscience. She explained that the popular adage ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, is the essence of the Alive to the World programme.
This philosophy, she pinpointed, is usually emphasised through sports in three ways: in respecting others if you belong to a team, love of justice (how we respect the decision of the umpire or the referee) and awareness of the needs of others.
“One example within sport is before a football game, your coach will come together with you and strategise your role. So, the child understands that during the game this is what I’m supposed to do. And during the game you will play, you will get feedback from the coach and afterwards you sit back and evaluate how the game went. Did you do what you’re supposed to do? How did it affect other people?”
In a similar way, Gooding suggested that this habit of thinking before acting is an approach parents can benefit from. Commenting on this, Syms added, “As parents, when we talk that parents are the first educators, sometimes we ourselves need to be educated … sometimes we don’t know… and this is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn together in this space.”
“We need to live it out as the examples and demonstrate that there’s something guiding us where we think before we act. Therefore, when our children ask us why we do certain things, we are able to give a logical explanation,” Gooding explained.
She spoke of growing up in a time when persons did what they were told. This generation, she opined, “is questioning the whys from the time they can speak….”
“And it’s up to us to really think through our value systems, understand the reasons behind our beliefs and to be able to verbalise it. That way our children can adapt that critical analysis even if, especially with the social media and the different ideologies being presented, adapt more critical thinking towards it. And not just swallow everything wholesale but challenge, question and understand your parents’ beliefs so you can have a formed conscience in determining where you see the truth and something that is not genuine and, of course, practise what you preach,” Gooding said.