How To Shape Our Children's Emotional Habits - Mid-Pacific Institute

Heart-to-Heart with Parents

How To Shape Our Children's Emotional Habits

Posted on October 28, 2016

by Ms. Rivera on October 28, 2016

It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

-- Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

We all have an emotional nature, as well as a physical, cognitive, and spiritual nature. This is what makes us human beings, having this four-fold nature. Rudolf Steiner calls this "four members of the human being...which normally function in harmony."

Our emotions can give us insight and help us understand our behaviors and deepest feelings. Learning where emotions come from and how they develop can help us discover how our emotional habits can undermine our best intentions. This understanding and awareness gives us the insight for shaping our children's emotional habits (Robinson, 2007).

Where do emotions come from? A thought (something we perceive in our mind) triggers an impulse (or motion) in the body. This impulse can be felt in such places as the muscles, organs, or nerves. The motion through the body leads to an action.


Daniel Goleman states in his book, Emotional Intelligence, that thoughts and emotions arise almost simultaneously. When a perception (thought) of an event occurs, this triggers an internal emotional reaction (motion in the body) and then leads to an action.

I recently attended a conference on the mainland. While checking in for my flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, I was informed that my flight was cancelled and that there were no more flights out that night. I started to feel stressed, "What if I don't get to my conference on time?" (perception) I began to worry and feel anxious. (emotional movement in my body). By the end of the night, I had a headache and was so nervous that I couldn't sleep! (action)

Has this ever happened to you? You experience a series of thoughts that keep repeating in your mind and then you start to feel this reaction in your body, such as pain, tension, or relaxation. We might replay stressful events in our mind throughout the day. Shinzen Young, a Buddhist philosopher, stated "Often, when memories of anger are occurring, something is tightening in our gut, there may be shakiness in our arm, a creepy feeling up the back, or an uneasy feeling in the stomach. When we are distraught, the thinking process gets chaotic and it's difficult to make sense of things." As adults, we sometimes suppress our emotions or we learn ways to work through them.

Children, in contrast, primarily experience the bodily sensations that accompany the emotions. They feel a surge of adrenalin and often feel compelled to act, perhaps grab back a toy that was taken from them or strike the thief. One of our tasks as adults is to help children interpret these bodily sensations - put words to these so that they become conscious experiences rather than unconscious (Robinson, 2007). We can help children work with bodily sensations that arise. It makes the feeling part of emotions tangible and helps them contact what is going on.

When working with children to help them be aware of their emotions, I use stick-on dots of various colors. First, I show them where I feel anger or sadness in my body, and put the color dots on my head (I get a headache), on my throat (my voice gets weak or I yell), and on my shoulders (I feel the tension). We talk about where they feel the emotion and then they put the dots on that part of their body.

To help them express the emotion in a healthy way, we practice mindful deep breathing. We breathe in s-l-o-w-l-y... and out s-l-o-w-l-y...about ten times (action). We might also spend time squeezing a ball, a clump of clay, or a beanbag. If we're outside, we might run, jump, dance, or play.


I also use the feelings chart and some small bean bags.

Try this with your child. Ask your child, "How are you feeling?" Then have your child place a bean bag on the feelings picture that reflects their feeling.


Then reflect for your child. By doing so you "put words to these so that they become conscious experiences rather than unconscious." Say, "I noticed you're feeling happy. Would you like to tell me about your feeling?" Please remember to say only what you see or hear. Stay away from personal judgements or opinions, like "Why do you feel that way?" or "You shouldn't feel that."

Remember, parents, to also share your feelings. By doing so, you model how to express feelings in a healthy way. We can model awareness of our feelings for our children. Have quiet moments during the day, three to five minutes, and allow your child to check in with how they're feeling using the feelings chart. Take a few deep breaths. Bring your attention to how you are feeling when interacting with your child.

In understanding our own emotions, we can help our children learn to recognize the emotions as guides for their deepest feelings and passions as they develop and journey through life.