Help children to cope with emotions

I read with sadness that an 11-year-old boy killed himself on the day he was supposed to bring his exam results home ("Death of boy who fell 17 floors ruled a suicide"; Oct 22).

The letters that came in the wake of this tragedy describe resilience and robustness as skills to teach our young ("Action needed to curb unnecessary stress" by Lee Song Yang; Oct 26, and "A child's potential is not defined by his grades" by Ms Angie Chew Gim Leng; Oct 28).

But what does this actually mean?

One of the best ways parents can help to foster emotional resilience in their children is to talk about negative feelings and emotions.

As a psychotherapist, I believe that understanding and expressing our emotions is how we cope with our feelings.

The first step of the process is to acknowledge when we feel sad, disappointed, fearful, angry or ashamed.

Emotions are often seen as random, irrational impulses that can lead to destructive behaviour and should, therefore, be suppressed. However, emotions are the very core of our being.

A study found that people were able to calm painful emotions by putting their feelings into words - when emotions were named and labelled, it calmed the emotional centre of the subjects' brains.

Naming a negative emotion in this way can help us regulate and tolerate it.

A secure relationship can also give us a chance to openly talk about our emotions, helping us to manage our emotions and regulate our feelings.

At my private practice, an increasing number of children and teenagers have reached out to me.

They often say that they do not want their parents to know that they are suffering, or that their parents are the source of their suffering.

Unfortunately, without their parents' consent, I cannot treat them and can only refer them to their school counsellors.

Parents and educators should take note that if a child seems "happy", it does not mean that he is not struggling with negative feelings.

It is normal to have feelings of disappointment and sadness or to react badly to receiving poor grades.

We must create a society where children are allowed to fail and yet have strong, supportive role models to turn to when things are not working out.

If we can help children to express and process their feelings, then we can help to prevent more tragedies.

Evonne Lek Woon Ing (Ms)

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