We’ve all heard the airplane safety instructions on oxygen masks that caution, ‘put on your own mask before assisting others.’ While very literal in this case, I believe the same can be said about learning to trust one’s own intuition. We can’t expect to trust others if we don’t first trust our own instincts. While intuition can be seen as an obscure topic, the benefits of helping our kids learn to ‘listen to their gut’ can be very important.
Intuition isn’t always the difference between life and death like the oxygen mask (although it can be), but can play an important role in our decision-making, risk-taking, and relationship building. Teaching children early on that they have natural instincts, how to listen to their physiological responses, and how to trust their intuition can be pivotal for their wellbeing for the rest of their lives.
We wanted to get to the bottom of just how important intuition is and how we as parents can help teach our children to listen to and trust their intuition. To do that, we reached out to Board Certified Cognitive Specialist Beatrice (Bea) Moise, M.S., BCCS. Her insights can help parents teach their child how to recognize, listen to, and trust their intuition.
How to Explain Intuition to Children
Intuition is a complex topic that can be difficult for adults to comprehend, let alone little minds that are constantly learning new things. We asked Moise for advice on having a conversation with kids about the topic and the best way to explain the concept of intuition to children, and what she shared was really insightful.
To define intuition in terms children can understand, she shared, “It’s an awareness of your senses—the feeling of little butterflies in your stomach or suddenly being aware of your heartbeat or your breathing.” This opens up a conversation as well about children learning to recognize how their body responds in certain situations. Moise believes parents should encourage their little ones to notice when these physiological feelings arise as that will play a part in children knowing when something is or isn’t right.
Explaining the Difference Between Intuition and Fear
She also mentioned a few other key points that should be included in the conversation of intuition. Moise pointed out that a lot of physiological responses we have (the racing heartbeat, rapid breathing, etc.) can also arise when we’re feeling scared or anxious. She suggested pointing out to children that our intuition won’t always be right initially, but the more we practice listening to it, the easier it will become to distinguish it from fear and anxiety.
Why Children Should Learn to Trust Their Intuition
Learning to trust their instincts, use their best judgement, and trust themselves are unparalleled lessons for children that will not only impact how they view themselves, but also has the potential to keep them safe. Moise shared that when children learn to recognize their intuition they build confidence and self esteem. She said a great way to build self esteem in this way is through physical activity by allowing them to take safe, but calculated risks. She shared, “If they believe in their physical abilities, their inner strength will soon follow.”
If they believe in their physical abilities, their inner strength will soon follow.
This sense of self esteem and accomplishment at a young age can stick with them well into adulthood. Along with this self-assurance can also come positive impacts on overall well-being and mental health. Children that learn to trust their intuition can grow into adults that recognize toxic situations and relationships.
Intuition can tell children when a friendship in school isn’t right; like if a peer asks them to do something they don’t want to do or makes them feel uncomfortable. Recognizing and listening to their intuition can help them avoid a friendship or decision that doesn’t feel right. Moise shared, “Intuition will help you with maintaining friendships that are positive and removing yourself from toxic environments that are not beneficial for your health.”
Intuition can also tell them when something is more threatening, like a virtual friend asking them to do something they are uncomfortable with, or in a situation where an adult is telling them to keep something a secret. Speaking with children about these types of situations and helping them to know that their feelings are valid when they are uncomfortable can be a basis for keeping them safe, happy, and thriving.
How to Teach Children to Trust Their Intuition
That all sounds great and we’re convinced, but how do we teach children to listen to and trust their intuition? Moise was able to offer some sage advice and practical applications that we can use in our daily lives to do just that.
Give Them Opportunities to Hear Their Intuition
First and foremost, we have to give children opportunities to hear their intuition. Allow children to make bad choices that they want to make in a safe and supportive environment. Then, when they make a wrong choice, talk about how they felt making it. Chances are it ‘felt’ bad, and helping them recognize that sometimes we want to do things even though they don’t feel right is us not listening to our instincts.
On a day-to-day basis, Moise explained that there are certain practices we can incorporate to help children gain a sense of autonomy. These include encouraging them to play a sport, call a friend on their own, or order their own meal at a restaurant. Encouraging children to make their own choices and ‘takes risks’ teaches them that not only do you trust them, but that they can trust themselves.
Validate Their Emotions
Lastly, Moise touched on the importance of validation, or what she refers to as the “baseline for trust in a relationship.” We can provide validation by recognizing a child’s emotional responses to things and not brushing them off. When something happens, instead of instantly going into ‘fix it’ mode and saying “It’s okay, it’s okay,” try first saying something like, ‘I can understand why you feel that way.” In doing so, Moise shared, “If you validate a child’s emotional state regardless of what you think, it builds a mechanism of safety for future moments of connections.” Not only will this grow their connections with us, but they can take this confidence and trust into their adult relationships.