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October 21, 2020

Emotional Literacy: The Only Feeling Children Should Never Have Is The Feeling Of Being Unheard

Emotional Literacy: The Only Feeling Children Should Never Have Is The Feeling Of Being Unheard The sunset in San Fernando, Pampanga silhouettes a young boy flying a kite on April 6, 2020 at the site where the San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites usually take place. Many Holy Week traditions were not observed this year due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

The news yesterday covered a story about a young student jumping off a building. The news today covers the story of a girl who swallowed a bottle of pills in her bedroom. The news tomorrow will continue to broadcast suicide stories until enough people say “enough.”

At present, a growing number of youth struggles with mental health. Why is the younger generation drawn to ending their lives rather than living it? Where did we go wrong? What are we doing wrong?

An assessment of the Philippine mental health system reported a 16 percent prevalence of mental disorders among children, according to a paper titled “Current situation and challenges for mental health focused on treatment and care in Japan and the Philippines – highlights of the training program by the National Center for Global Health and Medicine” or NCGHM, published on the website Springer Link on Aug. 3.

The NCGHM’s training program was conducted in September and November 2019 with the goal of sharing the activities and good practices on child and adolescent mental health promotion, care and treatment in Japan and the Philippines.

Globally, the paper said that an estimated 10 to 20 percent of children and adolescents are affected by mental health problems, with more than half occurring before the age of 14. In the Western Pacific region, mental disorders rank third among the leading causes of disability-adjusted life years among children, and the prevalence of suicide attempts is high.

“Nevertheless, despite these alarming statistics, the figures may still be underreported due to stigma and taboo which affect help seeking and reporting of mental health problems,” the paper noted.

Depression is a complex concept for younger children, thus a strong foundation in emotional literacy must be established. Every child ought to be able to recognize and understand their emotions, what causes them, and how to deal with them.

The first step in teaching emotional literacy is to understand the child.

One thing common to every individual is being multidimensional. Some call it the “developmental domains.” Others call it the “dimensions of wellness.” In every child, there are multiple dimensions: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social. Each dimension is correlated to the others. It is crucial to understand the connection between these domains. One child is not to be seen as a single dimension; individuals are much more complex than that.

A concern that parents have today is that their influence on their children is not as strong as that of their kids’ peers. This leads to the question: how do you communicate with your child? It is not about how often you talk to them, but how often they speak up. How often do you listen? Do they feel free to speak openly?

Lack of communication impedes children from dealing with their misery in a healthy manner.

Here are some tips on how parents can communicate with their children amid mental health concerns especially in this time of the coronavirus pandemic:

Be a friend: Parents have to consider becoming their children’s friends, and not be limited to correcting them, giving them advice or rules on what to do and not do.

Don’t always take things personally: Parents may feel offended when children talk about their concerns, which they possibly see as a failure or reflection of their parenting. But again, every child is on a unique journey and parents must allow their children to voice whatever bothers them – problems, struggles – without taking them personally. Things may not have anything to do with the parents, after all. Sometimes, the parents’ initial reaction is to defend, interrupt or rush to conclusions, but this disregards the child’s feelings and thoughts and discourages the child from speaking up.

Be what you want them to be: If the job is to listen, how can parents teach children what they want the kids to know? Children use their eyes and not their ears to listen. When children see their parents acting a certain way, they tend to imitate the behavior. They copy mannerisms of speech. A simple gesture is something they will adapt. Without thinking about it, children pick up their parents’ habits and behaviors whether good or bad, almost as if they have been conditioned to do so. Children are always watching. When parents talk, children pay attention to the gestures, expressions and tone more than listen to what is being said. Parents are models in the home and proper and respectful listening must be shown.

Help process emotions: Parents must allow their children to speak up about their emotions in order to deal with them. A big problem today is the tendency of individuals to act on their emotions, which results in unhealthy behavior. As children grow up, their emotions become more complex. Being able to process and manage these emotions is an important skill and in their early years, children need the guidance of significant adults in their lives to do this.

The most important questions are often the hardest to ask because they are not asked frequently enough. Parents should make it normal to ask questions such as, “Why are you sad?” “What makes you sad?” “What do I do that makes you sad or angry?” “How have I hurt you?” “How can I be a better mommy or daddy to you?” “How do you want me to help you when you are feeling upset?”

It can be surprising how children respond to these questions.  However, they can only answer honestly when they know they will be heard without judgment. Through honest conversations, children will learn to express themselves. Thus, parents will have a better understanding of how to help their children, resulting in better management of mental health.

Balance in all dimensions will result in a child’s sense of wellbeing. When a child is feeling blue, parents must consider all of the dimensions. For example, a sad child (mental dimension) who learns to move around through exercise or dancing to a fun song (physical dimension) will learn that these activities can boost his or her mood. Nurturing the overall wellbeing of children is nurturing their physical health.

A healthy body contributes to a healthy mind. More than this, social, mental and spiritual aspects should be kept in check. Some activities like watching a movie as a family, reading books, telling jokes, praying together, or simply eating together can give the child a better idea of the healthy ways to deal with negative emotions.

Let them cry or be alone: “Tahan na” is a common response from Filipino parents toward their crying children. Eventually, children use this line when faced with people who show vulnerability. An unpopular opinion is that when children are sad, they should cry it out. As children grow older, there will be times when they will be alone. Some prefer being alone when they are sad. This is all right; allow solitude. Allow independence. Allow silence. Allow temporary isolation. While it is OK to deal with sadness through activities, allow children to express their sadness normally by crying. This avoids the repression of feelings, which can lead to mental damage.

Allow self-discovery: Finally, allow the children to discover their own ways of dealing with sadness. The truth is, parents cannot solve every single one of their children’s problems. Eventually, the children will know things that the parents do not.

It has been common in the Philippine culture that as children grow older, they grow further away from their parents and closer to their peers. However, it does not have to be that way. Like other relationships, parents and children can grow closer through the years; the parents play the role of a catalyst for the consistency of this relationship. Because most parents know that they are the authority, they expect to be listened to, but children, like any other individual, also need to be listened to. The simple feeling of being listened to is such a positive feeling for a child.

Parents can be kind today and right tomorrow. This is the main element of open communication. The more parents listen, the more they understand; the more they understand, the more they are able to communicate; the more they are able to communicate; the stronger their influence. Allow children to feel and express their emotions. The only feeling they should never have is the feeling of being unheard.

About the author

Courtney Louise Castro is a third year college student at the University of Asia and the Pacific majoring in Bachelor of Early Childhood Education. She aspires to be a child behavior analyst and an educator with the advocacy to provide meaningful education to children of diversity.

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