Practice emotional communication
One small change that I would recommend for this new year is for families to practice doing more ‘emotional communication’.
Often we are rushing around, with full schedules and our communication revolves around what needs to happen, by when and how. In families, the experience of talking about our feelings has become relegated to moments of intense outburst, when we can no longer ‘hold it in’ and usually involves a raised voice or a couple of words that we hope the child never repeats to their teacher!
We are not born with the skill of expressing how we feel — we learn from watching others and from practising ourselves. People often ask me why their child/teen can’t just tell them how they are feeling. The thing is, I know many adults who have not yet developed that skill!
So for this coming year, a small change could be the introduction of a daily emotional ‘tune-in’. Find five minutes a day for the family to play ‘Mad, Sad, Glad’ — each member shares something that day that made them feel mad, something that made them feel sad and something that made them feel glad.
If there is time, the discussion can also include how you managed that situation. At first, it might seem quite staged or forced, but the more you integrate it into your daily schedule, the more natural it will feel. It will also create an opening point of discussion should your child/teen wish to share something that’s bothering them.
The benefits of this quick game include encouraging of sharing, practising expressing yourself, listening skills, learning from others’ experiences and developing realistic expectations about the emotions we feel throughout the day.
So often I see that it is actually the small changes in the way a family engages that make such a positive impact on their well-being and sense of connection. The same way that families put effort and focus on their physical, spiritual and intellectual well-being, so too must there be time spent on their emotional well-being.
Talya Ressel is a social worker and family therapist based in Cape Town. She is married to Marc and they have two children.