Let’s talk about feel­ings

Too much screen time is af­fect­ing emo­tional de­vel­op­ment. A psy­chol­o­gist gives Lisa Salmon tips on how to im­prove it

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Feature -

CHIL­DREN’S ob­ses­sion with screen time is a ma­jor bug­bear for many par­ents — al­though it’s not just kids who are let­ting tech get in the way of the rest of their lives.

New re­search by the read­ing char­ity Book­trust has found mums and dads them­selves are spend­ing four times as long on screens as they are read­ing to their young chil­dren.

As a re­sult, chil­dren are los­ing out on the bond cre­ated be­tween a par­ent and child dur­ing story time.

Fur­ther stud­ies have found chil­dren as young as three are hin­der­ing the de­vel­op­ment of their emo­tional in­tel­li­gence — which helps man­age feel­ings and moods, aids ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and pro­tects against men­tal health prob­lems — by spend­ing too long star­ing at screens.

Hours spent alone play­ing high­tech games means chil­dren are spend­ing less time with other kids and not learn­ing how to share or to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively with their peers.

Psy­chol­o­gist Dr Amanda Gum­mer, founder of Fun­da­men­tally Chil­dren, which helps chil­dren de­velop skills through play, says: “There’s a grow­ing con­cern that the in­crease in re­mote com­mu­ni­ca­tion hin­ders chil­dren’s emo­tional de­vel­op­ment and chil­dren to­day can find it more dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand and man­age their emo­tions.

“In­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships play a huge role in the de­vel­op­ment of emo­tional skills and there’s a wor­ry­ing trend for chil­dren to spend less time so­cial­is­ing with oth­ers and more time in soli­tary sit­u­a­tions, so they may be get­ting fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties to prac­tice those im­por­tant skills.”

Gum­mer says the main area of con­cern is with very young chil­dren — if they de­velop a screen-based play pat­tern be­fore they start school they’re likely to be less able to share and make the most of the learn­ing avail­able in a so­cial class­room set­ting.

She says the ‘Me, Now’ gen­er­a­tion is used to hav­ing in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion be­cause their needs are of­ten met al­most in­stan­ta­neously through tech play. This can have a neg­a­tive im­pact on cop­ing mech­a­nisms.

In ad­di­tion, chil­dren who are told to stop cry­ing or to be­have are less likely to de­velop emo­tional in­tel­li­gence than those en­cour­aged to ex­plore their own emo­tions, she says.

Gum­mer sug­gests the fol­low­ing 12 ways to im­prove chil­dren’s emo­tional de­vel­op­ment:

1. Talk to your chil­dren about a healthy bal­anced diet of play/en­ter­tain­ment and agree what’s fair then en­sure ev­ery­one sticks to the rules, in­clud­ing the adults (us­ing apps like OurPact can help).

2. Make it a fam­ily rule that ev­ery­one checks in their smart­phones be­fore bed­time, and agree a list of things that need to be com­pleted in the morn­ing be­fore they get their phones back.

3. Try and keep up with the apps your chil­dren use so you can have in­formed con­ver­sa­tions with them and they don’t think you’re a tech di­nosaur.

4. Prac­tice what you preach — make sure you give your chil­dren your un­di­vided at­ten­tion, look them in the eye etc.

5. Be au­then­tic — don’t try and hide your feel­ings.

6. Val­i­date their emo­tions — “I can see you’re cross... but you can’t have an­other cake. What can we do to help you feel bet­ter?”

7. En­cour­age imag­i­na­tive role play — es­pe­cially with char­ac­ters that have dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sions.

8. Prac­tice mak­ing funny (emo­tional) faces in the mir­ror to­gether and la­belling the emo­tion.

9. Give chil­dren op­tions for ways to han­dle dif­fi­cult emo­tions (e.g. a pil­low to thump if they’re an­gry, a quiet safe place to go if they’re scared).

10. Talk to your chil­dren about how you man­age your own dif­fi­cult emo­tions.

11. Read books with your child that in­clude emo­tional sto­ry­lines and dis­cuss them.

12. En­cour­age chil­dren to play freely with other chil­dren — they gain a lot from mix­ing with a wide range of peo­ple.

AL­WAYS ON: A child can pri­ori­tise screen time over spend­ing time with friends.

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