A Simple Tool To Help Parents Prioritize Emotional Awareness At Home
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Home should be a place that makes you feel good.
It's the place you come back to after a long day spent in spaces and with faces who demand a lot from you. Home is where you get respite from that, to finally unwind and relax and be yourself. And most importantly, it's where you get to spend time around the people you love most—your family.
Oddly, though, sometimes that time around those loved ones can somehow make home feel…less than relaxing. And there's nothing wrong with admitting that. It's only natural for families, particularly those with kids, to sometimes drive one another up a wall. But what if you could consciously create a home that instills exactly the kind of positive energy you and each of your family members craves?
The family charter.
In his newly release book Permission To Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions To Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive, psychologist and emotions researcher Marc Brackett, Ph.D., suggests families create a "charter" outlining exactly how they want to feel at home and what they can each do to support this type of atmosphere.
To create the charter, get together perhaps over the weekend or during a dinner when every family member is present and talk through the following questions:
- How do we want to feel as a family? Consider words like happy, calm, safe, playful, or respectful. Each member of the family should get to contribute to shaping this energetic goal—including both the youngest kids and those parents who tend to accommodate whatever everybody else wants. The point of the charter is to make sure everybody's emotional needs are being acknowledged, prioritized, and met day in and day out.
- What can we do to experience these feelings as often as possible? For example, let's say you desire a calm, warm energy when you're with your family. Get specific about how you'll facilitate that emotional state: Perhaps you can all agree to wake up 15 minutes earlier in the mornings so that you're not all rushing to narrowly make school drop-off on time. Or perhaps you all commit to saying "thank you" or "I love you" out loud around the house more often when you're feeling appreciative.
- What can we do when we are not living the charter? When the emotional energy in the family is off, what will each person do to remedy it? Come up with a process that works for everyone. For example, perhaps you agree not to stonewall or become passive-aggressive when you're upset with someone else in the family; instead, you'll address any conflicts directly while assuming best intent.
"It's deceptively simple," Brackett tells mbg in an interview. "The family has to have the willingness to have that conversation. And what happens is, you learn what people may not be feeling. Because if a kid says, 'I want to feel respected; I want to feel valued; I want to feel supported,' that might be an indication that [they] don't feel that way."
The charter is a great way to bring those frustrations to light and empower each person in the family to feel seen, heard, and valued. Then when the emotional temperature of the household is off, there's a concrete game plan in place to help get the family back to the emotional place they want to be in.
"Emotions are the drivers of our relationships," Brackett says. "So if I'm in a relationship with my parent or my child, and I don't feel valued and supported and connected and appreciated and the list goes on, we're probably not going to have the best family—the highest functioning family. So by attending to the desired emotions, we can pretty much enhance our environment."
Prioritizing emotional awareness at home.
The other larger benefit of the charter is that it makes it normal for a family to talk about their emotions with one another regularly. That's certainly good for kids, as it helps them practice emotional awareness and emotional management—skills that later in life can dramatically affect their physical and mental health, their ability to have successful relationships, and even their academic and career success. Among younger kids, research shows that mindfulness can improve their self-regulation skills, attention, and social competency, among so many other benefits.
But beyond improving your kids' EQ, the charter tool can be a way for parents to make sure their own emotional needs are being taken care of as well. In his book, Brackett explains that kids sometimes need to be reminded that parents are human too. The charter thus encourages everyone in the family—both parents and kids—to be actively conscious of their emotional temperature and how it might be affecting other people in the family.
Some parents might bristle at the idea of making their kids have to worry about how they feel, but the truth is, there's nothing wrong with asking children to learn to empathize with others and care about other people from a young age.
"Once you realize how critical our emotions are to our health and creativity and our decisions in our everyday life, you realize—I guess I really should let my child know that I do feel this way," Brackett explains. "We also suffer when we don't share our feelings. Think about parents who feel disrespected by their kids week after week after week. And then what happens? They explode."
Getting comfortable talking about emotions as a family—even if it's something you, as a parent, are not the most skilled at yet—can only benefit the household.
"Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. No one's going to be hospitalized for talking about their feelings," Brackett says. "It's OK to be nervous. Don't base your experience doing this work on how you think you might feel—because that might not be true. You're making it up. You don't know because you haven't done it."
Remember: Everyone in the family is on the same team.
When there's a conflict, Brackett emphasizes the importance of getting out of the "you vs. me" mindset. If a parent and child are having a conflict, for example, it's not "parent vs. child." It's "parent and child vs. the conflict." (You can actually apply this to any conflict in any relationship.)
"It's always about the collective effort. What can we do to be more respectful? And if it goes into 'you, you, you, you, you're this, you're this,' that's going to activate everybody, and then we're not going to be working toward a common goal," Brackett explains. "Always think of your family as a unit, not as a bunch of individuals."
That's the beauty of the charter: It reminds you that you're all responsible for taking care of one another, and that you're all in this together.
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