Esports & parenting: How to help your child control & understand their emotions.

Esports & parenting: How to help your child control & understand their emotions.

We at the ECA fully understand how important it is for children to be able to control and understand their emotions. Staying calm during a stressful situation can greatly affect performance and the game's outcomes, whether they win or lose. There are certain tools you can teach your child to handle stressful or agitating situations better. However, the most important part is that you, as a parent, actively acknowledge and involve your child in discussions about their emotions. Normalizing discussions around their feelings and emotions allow you to help your child navigate and understand them better. This can lead to a more healthy relationship with gaming and boost your child´s confidence. It is never too early or late to start helping your child how to control and understand their emotions, and it will only benefit them in the future.

In general, gaming is not thought to evoke a broad range of emotionally rich experiences such as appreciation, wonder, or awe because players are focused on gameplay and game mechanicsAesthetic experiences are typically positive and rewarding, however, they can also be negative and complex. These experiences are typically felt in music, film, or by just being in nature. In her doctoral dissertation, Julia Ayumi Bopp suggests the ability for players to influence their characters' storylines and actions leads to an attachment to the character, and players can experience a strong range of emotions such as remorse, sadness, happiness, and a sense of responsibility. Despite a player´s age, they might need to make difficult decisions in a game or match or have their decision power taken away from them, leading to emotions such as frustration, irritation, or even anger. This suggests that aesthetic experiences can be felt when playing video games, further illustrating the importance of emotional awareness and understanding how to manage emotions.

A big part of being a parent is to help your child with all of life's challenges. One of those challenges is dealing with and learning to control their emotions. Emotions can be difficult to identify, control and understand, even for adults. But they are what makes us human. Everyone is constantly thinking and experiencing various emotions every day without even realizing it. A study from 2010 suggests that good emotional regulation skills might be linked to well-being, further supporting the importance of honing those skills.

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Children are no experts at identifying and understanding their emotions. We often expect them to be able to communicate how they are feeling in a particular situation, but children are notorious for not being able to do so. In a recent article by Kirsten Weir at the American Psychological Association, she mentions that children need to learn many different skills to help them regulate their emotions. These skills are attention, planning, and cognitive and language development, which are developed at different times. It is uncommon for children to be able to easily identify or even admit why they are feeling negatively at a distressing moment. Children´s ability to manage their feelings depends on multiple factors, such as genetics, natural temperament, the environment they grow up in, and other factors, such as how tired or hungry they are. External factors can also affect the child´s emotions and cause them to go haywire, such as difficulties at home, school, or online. A child having a bad day at school can behave completely differently when gaming than a child having a good day. It is good to remember those factors when trying to address your child´s gaming behavior. These factors can help you understand and deal with certain behavior, as knowing the root cause of your child´s emotional behavior is the key to helping them control it.

Tools for your toolbox

The first step to help your child with their emotions is to validate their feelings. Emotional validation is an important way for you to make your child feel seen, understood, and affirm their sense of self. By validating their feelings, you open the door for your child to actively participate in labeling and understanding their feelings and give them more confidence in doing so. After validating their feelings, you can give them tools to better handle or understand their emotions. 

Here are a few tools you can teach your child to help them better control and understand their emotions:

  • Suggest your child take three deep breaths when feeling frustrated. 

    • If your child is in the middle of a game and feeling frustrated, you can teach them to try taking three deep breaths to calm themselves.

  • Suggest your child take a 5-minute break after a game or match to reflect and discuss their feelings.

    • Sitting down with your child after a frustrating or exciting game and discussing their feelings with them can be beneficial. This can help them identify and label a negative or positive feeling they experienced during their gaming session.

  • Suggest your child walk around the room after a frustrating situation.

    • A short physical exercise, like a walk, can make a big difference in a child´s attitude towards gaming, giving them more clarity and a chance to calm themselves down.

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When gaming, it can be easy to get into a state of mind when you feel like nothing you do will affect the game´s outcome. In that state of mind, you are likely to cast the blame on everyone else but yourself. Oftentimes, you can feel like it is all your teammates' fault that you lost the game or missed a skill shot because they distracted you. In those situations, it is important to remember that team-based games are designed to have a balanced win rate, the proportion of games that a player typically wins. A game designer´s job is to make the game as balanced as possible to ensure that players have a similar win rate and that the playing field is even. The best gaming strategy for any game or game mode is teaching your child to focus only on themselves. They are more likely to improve, learn from their experience, and become better gamers by focusing on themselves. Research conducted in 2012 suggests that with a focused growth mindset, players perform better than fixed mindset players, as their mistakes did not affect their attention to the game. Therefore, players with a growth mindset are more likely to climb the ranks in their games and win overall rather than getting distracted and annoyed by others.

Lead by example

It is important to understand that you can make a big impact on your child´s behavior. You can do this through simple actions. You need to set a good example and be aware of your behavior and how you handle your emotions during a stressful situation, as your child will watch and learn from it. It can also be helpful to be diligent in praising your child if you notice them putting a good effort into controlling their emotions when gaming.  Simple praise can go a long way as it can help your child associate that behavior with something positive, making them more likely to choose that path instead of a negative one. It can boost your child´s confidence and mood, leading to better behavior.

A good approach to helping your child better control their emotions is by talking to them about it. Children understand more than we think. With open discussions about feelings and emotions, you can normalize them and help your child understand them. Even negative feelings and emotions are normal and take practice and mindfulness to control and understand. 

A helpful skill for your child to be aware of is empathy. A basic understanding of empathy can impact how your child behaves in life and when gaming. It can be good to ask your child situational questions to help them understand empathy. These questions can be something like:

  • How would you feel if you missed scoring a goal, lost the game as a result, and your teammates were yelling bad things at you? 

  • How would you feel if your best friend messed up in your game and your other teammates were saying bad things to him?

These questions can help them think about how they would feel and react in these situations and help put things into perspective.

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Children often believe they are bad if they lose a game or a duel against another player. However, if they win, they believe they are the best. You should be aware of your timing if you want to discuss something with your child related to their gaming. If you approach your child after a lost game, they are most likely experiencing negative feelings such as frustration, anger, or disappointment. This can make them difficult to approach and reason with and less susceptible to criticism or advice. If your child has just won a game, they will likely be excited to talk to you about their game, what they achieved, and how they did it. An example of how to approach your child while they are irritated and gaming would be to ask them to take a break after their current game and then discuss their feelings with them. You could also wait until their gaming session is finished to sit down and talk to them.

When discussing their emotions, being mindful of what you say and how you say things to your child is important. We strongly suggest avoiding saying that the game is just a game. Rather, you should mention that you are often worried when your child displays their emotions through aggressive behavior. You should emphasize the importance of expressing their emotions calmly and not letting them get the best of them. A good angle to open up a discussion on emotions would be to ask them what they think their negative and aggressive behavior could lead to. You explain to them how, e.g., screaming in their room at their gaming console or screen is not a positive behavior and discuss how it can impact everyone in the household.

Normalize and discuss emotions

We at the ECA fully understand how important it is for children to be able to control and understand their emotions. Staying calm during a stressful situation can greatly affect performance and the game's outcomes, whether they win or lose. There are certain tools you can teach your child to handle stressful or agitating situations better. However, the most important part is that you, as a parent, actively acknowledge and involve your child in discussions about their emotions. Normalizing discussions around their feelings and emotions allow you to help your child navigate and understand them better. This can lead to a more healthy relationship with gaming and boost your child´s confidence. It is never too early or late to start helping your child how to control and understand their emotions, and it will only benefit them in the future.

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