how to: help your child to start the day (part 1) - lifehacksforkids

help your child start the day the right way (part 1)

We can't promise that our morning routine will get your child out of bed any quicker (or less grumpily), but it will help them to develop their EQ and send them off to school feeling happy, positive and ready to take on their day.

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the mornings

Sending your little treasure(s) off to school feeling positive and happy can be quite the challenge, kids aren't exactly known for being 'morning people'!

Despite this, we persist with our morning routine for two reasons:

  • 1
    The field of positive psychology tells us that how you start your day really does matter, start off by feeling positive and happy and you set yourself up for a positive, happy day.
  • 2
    It helps our kids to develop their emotional intelligence (EQ). 

We've never understood why schools don't 'teach' kids EQ, seeing as it's a much better predictor of future success than IQ!

It's also a nice way to future-proof your kids: EQ is one of the few skill sets that algorithms and AI will struggle to replace.

emotional intelligence

Before we show you what we do, it's worth defining EQ: this from the excellent PsychCentral:

"Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in an effective and positive way. A high EQ helps individuals to communicate better, reduce their anxiety and stress, defuse conflicts, improve relationships, empathize with others, and effectively overcome life’s challenges."

The key to the first part of our morning routine is: the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions.

how emotions are made

Most of us think of emotions as something that happen to us, hard-wired brain circuits triggered by an external stimulus.

However, the latest research in neuroscience suggests the opposite, emotions aren't triggered- we create them instead.

Your brain's primary purpose is to keep your body alive and well. In order to do this it is constantly trying to predict what your body needs, which it does based on the following INPUTS.

  • 1
    The physical sensations you feel.
  • 2
    Your surroundings- where you are and what you are doing.
  • 3
    Your past experiences- 'last time this happened I felt sad/happy/stressed' etc...

how does this information help us?

Well, it means that you are more in control of your emotions than you might think- see diagram below.

  • 1
    Your brain receives INPUTS - physical sensations, information about your surroundings, and past experiences
  • 2
    Based on these inputs your brain then makes PREDICTIONS, which help to generate your emotional state.
  • 3
    Your emotional state is EXPRESSED through your thoughts, the decisions you make, how you behave and your attitude.
  • 4
    These expressions- your thoughts, decisions, actions, and attitude- directly affect the RESULTS that you get.

As you can see, the brain is reliant upon the quality of the INPUTS it receives, and this presents us with a problem.

the problem

Most of us are very GENERIC when we describe our emotional experience- kids especially so.

We often use simple, vague terms such as 'good', 'bad', or 'fine', when in fact, what we feel is much more SPECIFIC than that.

Here's an example using the feeling "BAD".

Simply saying "I'm feeling BAD." is like going to the doctor and saying you feel 'pain', how could the doctor possibly prescribe the right medicine to help you feel better?

BAD as an INPUT is too vague- are you a tired, busy, bored or a  stressed kind of BAD?

Let's say you are a 'STRESSED' kind of BAD, this is more useful, but are you OVERWHELMED or CHAOTIC?

You feel OVERWHELMED, great, you can now prescribe the medicine you need to help you feel better.

Not only that, but having accurately labelled how you feel today, the next time your brain recognises the same INPUTS, it will know that you are OVERWHELMED and you will be able to act accordingly, without thinking!

being specific: the benefits

When you are specific about how you feel:

  • You have a much richer, deeper emotional experience (which after all is what life is all about).
  • You can correctly diagnose how you feel, enabling you to prescribe the right medicine so you can feel better.  
  • You create accurate INPUTS- your emotional experience today is tomorrow's past experience.

our morning routine

This part (PART ONE) of our morning routine is designed to:

  • 1
    Help our kids to get more specific with how they feel to provide more accurate future INPUTS.
  • 2
    Help them to broaden their EQ vocabulary- as with any language, the more words you know, the better you can express yourself.
  • 3
    Help them to explore emotions and to learn strategies that will help them feel better.

how we do it

We have created a SPECIFIC EMOTION SELECTOR that helps our kids to get nice and SPECIFIC with their emotions.

We use this selector in a number of different ways- which we outline in the next section.

Stick it on your wall by the breakfast table and remember to play one of the emotion games below each morning. 


The SPECIFIC EMOTION SELECTOR has 3 levels of emotions:

  • 1
    Main emotions: capitalised in a black box e.g.    HAPPY    
  • 2
    2nd level: in the darker coloured box e.g.    playful 
  • 3
    3rd level: lighter colour and different font aroused / cheeky.

We have based our emotion selector on the fabulous emotional wheel of Geoffrey Roberts- his version can be found here.

6 games you play using the selector

 How Do you feel? 

Ask your child how they feel, then start with one of the main emotions (highlighted in black) and see how PRECISE your child can get with how they are feeling. This helps them to learn to label their emotions PRECISELY.

 Positive feelings 

Select a POSITIVE emotion at random. Explore ways that you and they can feel that emotion in the day ahead- check and see if they did feel it when they come home.

Or, why not see if you can create that emotion right now.

 Random Emotion feeling 

Select an emotion at random, then talk about a time when you and/or your child felt that emotion in the past. If it was a positive experience ask: "What they are grateful for about that experience?". If it was negative, ask: "What did you learn?".

 Random Emotion meaning 

Select an emotion at random then gain a deeper understanding by finding out more about it:

 Random Emotion Metaphor 

Select an emotion and describe it using metaphors:

'As THANKFUL as a starving man given food' or, 'as ABANDONED as a lonely island in the middle of the ocean'. 
This increases awareness, deepens understanding, and helps develop creative thinking skills too.

 Random Emotion Solution 

Select an emotion at random, or one you are feeling and then talk to the kids about strategies, tools, and resources you can use to help you feel better.

Ask them what they have done, or would do too. 

See how many different ways to feel better you can come up with.

does it work?

We definitely have more interesting conversations in the morning, and I really feel that I'm doing something positive and worthwhile for my kids.

The 6 little games are great, they really help us all explore our emotions together (me included), which shows the kids that I'm learning too- that I don't have all the answers, which I think is extremely important.

This morning one of my kids (age 11) told me they were disillusioned that we hadn't gone to a particular restaurant the other week to celebrate a birthday, this despite saying that we would!

"Great use of emotional language." I said, "Very SPECIFIC, well done!" 

We then explored if this was the right word to describe the feeling (it was), and then we talked through some of the ways they could overcome this feeling next time.


If we look back at the definition of emotional intelligence at the beginning of this article:

"Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in an effective and positive way. A high EQ helps individuals to communicate better, reduce their anxiety and stress, defuse conflicts, improve relationships, empathize with others, and effectively overcome life’s challenges."

I would have to say that yes, it does work.

Give it a try and see for yourself.

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