Talking to your kids about gut feelings

portrait of pretty preschool girl with backpack outdoorsIn this busy season of back to school schedule changes, there are a lot of things your kids are encountering that will be new or unfamiliar, this is an especially great time to talk to them about gut feelings. .

 We emphasize learning about and understanding gut feelings in our classes because it is a great tool for children to have in their self-defense toolkit. Children don't necessarily have the vocabulary to describe why a situation or a person makes them uncomfortable so being able to recognize a gut feeling as a warning and something that they can act on is vital. This is especially important with younger children as this could be the only tool they have to rely on in the absence of a developed understanding of the do's and don'ts of social interactions.

When we look at gut feelings specifically as they relate to physical threats, they become even more important. In many assault cases victims report getting a gut
feeling they ignored. When we think about how often we are told these feelings are "just in our heads" or that we're crazy for acting on the basis of a feeling alone, it's no surprise that as adults we tend to dismiss these warnings or signals from our bodies. Teaching children how to recognize and respond to these feelings is key to being comfortable with acting on gut feelings as adults. the-voice

With young children I like to start this topic by introducing the concept of their bodies talking to them. With my three to five year olds I will ask how their bodies talk to them; we will discuss feeling hunger, coldness, and pain. This is a great introduction to the concept that their bodies communicate with them. From here I usually transition into how their tummies specifically talk to them. In the same way our tummies can tell us when we don't feel well, they also tell us when we do or don't like someone or a situation.
At this point, I always make sure we cover the fact that when our tummy talks to us, we want to tell someone like  Mom and Dad, or , an instructor/teacher. This is important for building the link between having a gut feeling and telling someone about it. To encourage "tummy talk" sharing, it's important for parents to ask their children about the feelings their tummy gives them; the more validation you can provide when they feel that something is "off" but they don't know what, the more comfortable they will be sharing that feeling in a potentially dangerous situation.
With older children we get into the topic more deeply, using the words "gut feeling", "instinct", and "intuition". I ask them how they can recognize their gut feelings and oftentimes we will discuss situations where they might experience  such a feeling. For example if someone is being bullied in school, might we get a gut feeling that the situation is wrong?
 We also discuss gut feelings as they relate to people, especially adults and others their own age. Not only are kids at risk of running into adults who might want to hurt them, they are also exposed to peers who don't have good intentions. Understanding that their gut feelings can be a tool in difficult social situations is a great confidence builgutder as they enter their pre-teen years.
An important aspect of these conversations is to have them repeatedly with children, and to follow up by including gut feelings in conversations about friends, dangerous situations, and self-defense. Don't forget to address these feelings in hind sight as well. For instance if your child comes home with a story about bullying at school, whether they were the victim or not, talk about not only what happened, but what their gut was telling them about the wrongness of the situation.
Children don't necessarily have all the physical capabilities adults do to get themselves out of a bad situation. The more we can arm them with preemptive measures to alert them to danger, the better off they will be.

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