Somewhere, inside us all, hides theCRITICAL CRITTER– a rather scary, hairy and un-fairylike creature. The Critical Critter is fed on a diet of negative self-talk and unkind, unsupportive words from others. Each time we chew on harsh and unjustified criticism, it’s like giving the critter another burger to munch on.
Life with a small human can be hilarious, wonderful, ridiculous and unpredictable. And wild – so wild. All kids are capable of ‘bewildering’ behaviours that can bring the strongest of us to our knees. These behaviours can take different forms. There are the ones that can be seen through the eye of a needle from a solar system away, no trouble at all – meltdowns, outbursts and tantrums, hitting, screaming. Then there are the ones that are a little harder to spot, but which light up our radar all the same – the worries that spin out of control, the sadness or withdrawal that lasts a little longer than it should, the tendency to bottle up feelings.
Kids and teens are growing up in a world that is becoming increasingly competitive and comparative. It is easy to for them – for any of us – to believe that the ones who have found success or happiness are better than, stronger than, smarter than, or privy to something magical – certain strengths or qualities that are reserved for the lucky few. The truth is that none of us are born with the ‘success’ gene or the ‘happiness gene’. There are many things that lead to success and happiness, but one of the most powerful of these is courage.
Being able to understand what other people might be feeling – empathy – is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and healthy, successful relationships. Empathy is a little bit of wonderful for everyone, so anything that can boost it has to be a good thing. Research has found reading fiction is an easy way to do this.
The need for self-control can feel like a tease at times and a bit of a pity, but its influence is spectacularly powerful. A landmark study conducted over three decades has found that the level of self-control children have as five-year olds, is one of the greatest predictors of their health, wealth and success as adults. Knowing how to increase self-control in children can help them on a path that sees them thrive.
Being able to respond and interact with the world whole-heartedly is fuel for flight and healthy living. A big part of this involves being aware of how we feel and how others feel, and managing those feelings to preserve relationships and satisfy needs. None of us were born knowing how to do this. It’s why the apprenticeship towards adulthood starts at the small human stage and lasts decades. So much to learn!>Empathetic listening is a powerful way to build this emotional awareness in children, open them up to your guidance and grow their emotional intelligence.
Empathy is the heartbeat of healthy relationships. Without it, there is limited scope for connection and understanding – arguments heat up, intimacy cools down, small issues become big ones, and relationships break. New research has made some startling findings in relation to the popular painkiller that reduces empathy.
What you focus on is what becomes becomes powerful. The message is real and comes fortified with some serious science. It’s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. The research around it has caught fire and the findings are powerful. The implications for all of us are profound.
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We humans are meaning makers. We are storytellers at heart. It’s how we make sense of each other, our world, and most importantly, ourselves. But big feelings can hijack our stories. When anxiety drives the story, it tells tales of deficiency and lacking, and puts avoidance where courage should be - but we can change that.
When we get a feeling, we are driven to make sense of it. Anxiety feels awful. It’s meant to. It compels us to listen to, and act on, its story: ‘This is unsafe and you need to act.’ This is how it keeps us safe. When there is no obvious threat, it is understandable that the story that children (or any of us) might put to the feeling is, ‘I feel as though something bad is going to happen, so something bad must be going to happen.’ .
This is when anxiety grows teeth. It assumes a power it doesn’t deserve, and drive a response that holds brave hearts back. .
To change the response, we have to change the story. First, we validate, because that lets them feel us beside them. ‘I can see how worried you are about going to school. It makes so much sense that you want to stay home. I’d want to stay home too if I felt like that.’
Then, to change how the story ends, we change how it begins. ‘Anxiety feels awful. It’s meant to - it’s how it keeps you safe from things that are actually dangerous, like dark alleys. But here’s the secret to doing hard things: Anxiety doesn’t only happen when something is dangerous. It also happens when there is something important or meaningful you need to do, like school or trying something new. It happens when you’re about to be brave. This is when you have a decision to make. Is this a time to stay safe, or is this a time to be brave?’
Then, we align with the part of them - and it’s always in them - that wants to be brave and knows they can be. It might be the tiniest whisper, or threadbare, or wilted by anxiety, but it will be there. .
Our job as their important people is to usher that brave part of them into the light, so they can start to feel it too. ‘You have done brave things before my darling, and I know you can do this. I know it with everything in me.’...