Society is generally advocating for its members to speak out and seek help should they be burdened by emotional tension. While doing so, it is crucial to understand that a person is not able to give another what they do not have within themselves. Emotional education cannot be a purely teacher or counsellor initiative. Knowledge has to come through and alongside parents because they are the gatekeepers of their own socio-cultural traditions. How do parents respond to their children’s emotional needs?
If parents do not know how to identify their own emotions, they can never speak the language of emotions in their children. They may label their children as lazy beings because they have not noticed that their anxiety is holding them back. “You are lazy, you are weak, you are a cry baby”, these statements cause children to move into adulthood with the wrong voices in their heads.
Emotional literacy in our home settings can be examined by our styles of interactions with our children. How do we deal with our children’s disruptive behaviours such as temper tantrums? Do we avoid them? Have we ever listened to them empathically? Have we tried to find out what their unique needs are? Do they keep a distance because they feel ignored by our past experiences with them? The focal purpose for all these questions is to bring into perspective how family leadership such as thinking, and communication styles affect our foundation for better mental health and wellbeing in life.
Family is a system made up of interdependent individuals whose emotional connection is interlinked. There seems to be a close link between the functioning of the family of origin and mental health. Individuals with family structures that are cohesive, flexible, communicative are more likely to process their own emotions and enjoy mental health. Conversely, a family of origin that is disengaged and chaotic may diminish the ability of its members to manage their own emotions which in turn may lead to mental health issues.
Family emotional learning is quite crucial because most of the behaviours learnt during the early developmental stages of life remain dominant. Families should honour their prevention-based skills through healthy behavioural parenting strategies because they are their children’s first teachers. Understanding the causes of emotions, labelling them accurately and expressing emotions appropriately with place and culture can help children manage life challenges and stresses.
Parents or guardians should promote a supportive relationship in their homes by making time to listen to their children. Discuss emotions with your kids and encourage them to recognise and label their emotions. Also indicate that it is natural to have all sorts of emotions. Role model a positive outlook for them and support them when something is bothering them. Help them manage small worries so they do not become big problems in future. Emotional open communication at home maintains positive mental health. It also decreases stigma related to mental health problems and enhances help-seeking efficacy.
It does not mean we should blame our family of origin for the way we are today. The main premise of this piece is to encourage emotional awareness starting from home in order to avoid childhood emotional neglect that might leave them struggling, baffled and confused in life.
Saara Meke Amakali is an Industrial Psychology and Sociology graduate. Email her at