The school year is underway. Classes have begun, students are learning, and ideally, there’s a concerted effort among schools, home life, and other support systems to help students build academic success. Academics are important, but they’re not the only part of school. Our kids, no matter their grade, deal with an entire world of people and situations that impact their emotional health and wellbeing.
A child’s daily school experience involves learning, and it involves navigating the world of peers, teachers, other adults, expectations and routines that vary from classroom to classroom, lunchroom norms, playground dynamics, and more.
What’s often hard for parents is the fact that we can’t control much of what our kids experience during their school day. What parents can do, however, is to help their children create, fill, and maintain a school supply list for an emotionally healthy school year.
What, Exactly, Does Emotionally Healthy Mean for Kids and Teens?
Life isn’t perfect. School isn’t perfect. To be emotionally healthy doesn’t mean a child feels only happiness or other positive emotions. To be emotionally healthy means that a child (anyone, actually) is resilient, bouncing back from all of the bumps and potholes, and experiences wellbeing in spite of those bumps and potholes.
It’s sad but true: parents can’t control much of what their kids experience. Happy and true: parents can impact how their kids handle what comes their way every day at school. How? These supply-list concepts can help you help your child:
Help kids and teens identify and understand their emotions. Emotions are complex and can be difficult to understand. When kids’ can’t identify their emotions, the emotions become incredibly overwhelming and even harder to handle. Observe their body language, tone of voice, and content of their words, and reflect it back to them in a neutral, non-judgmental way. This will help them develop words for what they feel. When they can articulate their feelings, they begin to have power over them as opposed to letting the emotions control them. This leads to emotional intelligence and emotional regulation, both essential for emotional health.
Work with them to monitor their emotions and then choose thoughts. It’s common for kids to catastrophize, taking a bad experience and super-sizing it so that it encompasses everything in their world. For example, a child or teen who is shunned by a friend quite commonly will think that everyone hates him. When you notice this type of thinking, help him identify her emotions, and then help him put her thoughts in perspective. Have him name one person who was nice to him that day, and build from there. Helping kids and teens notice how their emotions are shaping their thoughts, and then helping them question their thoughts and look for other evidence is a very important part of helping them develop emotional health.
Allow kids to empower themselves through their actions. Emotional health involves three key principles: feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Kids can’t always control what will happen to them. They can, however, control what they do about it. Even the youngest elementary school student can begin to learn—and use—this lesson. The first step is item one on the school-supply list; kids need to learn to identify their emotions. Next comes monitoring both emotions and thoughts. With this awareness comes the ability to act. Help kids understand that they have a choice in how they behave. A crucial message for emotional health is you can’t always control how others act, but you can control how you react.
The positive. Help kids find the positive every day. I tell people, whether it was my students, it’s my own children, or it’s adults in my life, to make great moments in their day. “Have a good day” isn’t very empowering. Teaching your kids that they can make great moments in their day sends important messages; it tells them that they are in control of making their day great—they’re not dependent upon things they can’t control—and it tells them that even though an entire day might not be great, the day will have positive, great moments. This is a very important perspective for emotionally healthy kids.
An emotionally healthy child or teen views life realistically and positively. An emotionally healthy child or teen thrives in school, both academically and socially, despite problems. Creating an emotionally healthy school year means that you and your son or daughter are creating strategies for dealing with problems, keeping the problems separate from the self, and focusing on the positive. This, as much as anything else, is part of the foundation for life success.