Due to "Children’s day" I was asked to write this article about emotional well-being. As I thought about it, I realized that the concept of "emotional well-being" is commonly used but when looked at carefully its not clear what it actually is, it has become a "junk drawer" for almost any topic that includes emotions.
Bearing this in mind, I hope this article helps you understand what it is and how we can help our little ones to develop a state of well-being that helps them in their personal growth throughout their life.
What is emotional well-being?
It could happen that when I hear the words “emotional well-being”, I believe that it means a constant state of peace and contentment. This would be our first mistake, emotional well-being involves acceptance of the emotions that arise, no matter if they are positive or negative. In other words, our goal is not that our children don´t feel sadness, loneliness, anguish, etc. We take for granted that these emotions will arise, but the goal is to be able to feel these emotions and allow them to run their course, without getting stuck in them.
The WHO defines emotional well-being as as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
This definition introduces a second concept to the definition: functionality. That is, that the person can function in their day to day life. That the child or adolescent can go to class, meet with friends, be part of family life and carry out those activities that he/she wants to, without difficulty and having a feeling of enjoyment and success.
With everything that has been said so far, we can summarize the definition saying that emotional well-being involves (1) the management and acceptance of emotions; and (2) the ability to manage and enjoy day-to-day activities.
What elements affect emotional well-being?
As it happens in most (if not all) aspects of mental health, there are certain areas that are the basis of an optimal emotional state:
As mentioned above, the feeling of being capable to manage emotions is essential. Feeling capable refers to the ability of experiencing an emotion, recognizing it and coping with it.
To achieve this, it is important that the parents, or the adults in charge of the minors, set an example by normalizing at home being sad, angry, having a bad day or sharing the good and joyful moments of our day. Let it be seen that emotions are another aspect of life and that allowing the emotion and expressing it, is the way to go with them. At the same time, appropriate forms of expression should be taught: going out for a run, hitting a cushion, doing breathing techniques or writing in a journal when the emotion is at its highest point (you can find other very interesting articles about expressing emotions written by colleagues in the blog). It will be when the emotion returns to a more relaxed point that we can talk about what has happened.
Stress is defined as a "state of mental fatigue caused by a higher than normal demand for performance.” Stress can be a positive factor; moderate levels of stress during a short period of time can push us to perform tasks that we would not do otherwise. For example, if I don't feel a little stressed because I have an exam, I'm not going to sit down and study.
Stress becomes harmful when it lasts for a long period of time and there is a feeling that the demand from the environment exceeds my abilities. It is at this moment when the feeling of being overwhelmed can appear and things seem to happen to us, instead of for us.
For this reason, it is important to optimally manage academic stress at home. It is important that teenagers understand that academic results do not reflect their value as a person. School is a step to achieve other goals, it has no more meaning than that. Furthermore, if help is needed, it isn´t a failure, it is a success to learn how and when to ask for help.
It is important to not add more tension to an educational system that is designed to create an environment of competitivity and stress with the idea that children learn how to function in this world. This can be beneficial if it teaches them how to manage the tensions that will arise in daily life, but we need home to be a safe place that reminds them that “no matter what, they will be ok”.
Sleep, physical exercise and eating habits
This trio is the basis of self-care: learning to eat properly, to prioritize the necessary number of hours of sleep, and to include physical exercise activities (or to include in their daily schedules pleasant activities that are done for the simple pleasure of doing them) are essential guidelines for the foundations of adult self-care.
My identity and the image that I create of myself will be established according to what I see reflected in others about me. For this reason, it is important that children and adolescents can enjoy activities with their peer groups. Discovering what I like and what I don´t like, how to relate to others, how to maintain friendships, and achieving a sense of belonging will be the basis for a solid and secure identity.
As Parents, what do we do?
The biggest challenge as parents is to find a balance between allowing them to explore the world and be autonomous, and being a present figure who is always there to welcome them when the world becomes dark and scary. There will be times when the only thing to do is to be there for them and love them unconditionally.
In psychology we never speak of "the good mother" or "the perfect mother", our aspirations are to have "the good enough mother". Being able to allow the expressions of individuality of our children, giving them space, marking the necessary limits/ boundaries and being present is all that can be done. It will be through perseverance and example that children will learn how to accept life and emotions.
Finally, I want to mention the most basic need of every human being- the need to feel loved and accepted. The foundation of our sense of worth will be established by our parents and having an experience of being unconditionally accepted is key to achieving emotional well-being. Teaching the difference between doing and being, or feeling and being, will be key. They can make mistakes or not do what we want, but that does not take away any worth as a person. In a similar way, they may feel bad or helpless, but that doesn't mean they are bad or helpless, I can feel many things but that doesn´t mean that they are true.
Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are (1)to teach them how to not fall into mind traps (start a life long journey of mind training) and (2)accepting them unconditionally: loving them for who they are, with their way of being and being in the world, without wanting to mold them to our own whim. It doesn´t mean that we stop being honest or that we stop indicating what does not seem right to us, but despite everything they know that we will be there for them.