Building Emotional Muscles

Today as I sat with the 5 year olds, they took turns telling truths about each other: “She teaches us to count in Chinese; She always cares how people feel; He gets tissues for friends who are sad; He is a great cleaner; She always helps the teachers set the tables; He reads to me.”

I watched as these small recognitions of each person’s strengths spoken in front of them added to their self-worth. The child spoken about shone with a happiness that came from being recognized and appreciated. What a wonderful activity! How can we spend more time making each other feel good and think about the needs of others?

There are simple conversation ideas to build these vital social-emotional skills in your family:

  • Compliment each other at least once a day and encourage your family members to do the same with other people. Make it real by recognizing the small things they do well: “I love the way you can zip your jacket all by yourself.”
  • Ask, “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” at the dinner table and take turns answering (adults included). This is a great conversation starter, it recognizes fun and happiness.
  • At bedtime ask, “Who did you help today? Who helped you? How did it make you feel? Who can you help tomorrow?” Share with your children who you helped and how it made you feel.

Here are some ideas to help build acts of caring with family members:

  • Think about the people around you in your community. Brainstorm as a family. Who can you show some love and caring to? Elderly neighbors? A new parent? Who makes your life better and deserves some recognition?
  • Brainstorm as a family how you can help that person – what would they like, what would help them and make them feel cared for?
  • It doesn’t have to be big or fancy or complicated. It can be small and caring and full of recognition.

This kind of routine within a family helps support and build children’s emotional and social growth. It helps them feel outside themselves and grow as caring humans. Families build these vital emotional muscles in their children by spending time together, playing together and caring together. Building these caring habits in your children helps them become wonderfully adept adults who will be good at their own relationships. The things you show and teach your children are the things they will show and teach their children.

With inspiration from Sarah Aadland, Director of Doing Good Together’s Big-Hearted Families Program