Behavior, Social & Emotional Development

7 Ways to an Emotionally Healthy Child

Dear Mom’s & Dad’s,

When we were kids, being sad or getting angry was not something that our parents appreciated very much, their response and actions have said it. “You should not be angry!” “Why are you crying for little things?” We all have been there… left confused, agitated to a point where we had to comprehend emotions ourselves when we reached maturity and experienced life circumstances.

Take yourself as an example, you are extremely furious at something that happened at work, you had an argument but things didn’t work out the way you expected and you are just figuring out ways to vent it, so you just end up building up emotions of anger, resentment, fury and one day you just pour out everything at the wrong place, wrong time, wrong person and on the wrong situation… we all have done this. Instead, if this resentment was vent in a manner without hurting anyone or anything and expressed in a certain way by channelizing the emotion to calmness, the sparks of fury could have been avoided. The same goes for children, as parents by denying your child’s emotions because dealing with them gets tough, causes issues in your child’s emotional growth. They are left confused and portrays their emotions in an unsuitable way to the outside world.

How do you define an emotionally healthy child?

 An emotionally healthy child has the ability to experience a wide range of emotions and self-modulate these emotions. He/she can identify and put language to express these emotions in a healthy manner.

Then how do we go about raising emotionally responsible children? Here are 7 steps to keep in mind:

1. You!

Yes, you read it right! Before you start with your kids, as a parent it is important to identify and deal with emotions yourself. Say, you are in an argument with your better half, if the feelings are expressed with anger, uncertainty and unsuitable actions, your children are bound to mimic the same when expressing their feelings. Like I said, our actions are also based on how we grew up, so parents need to recognize this and take their personal experiences as a lesson learnt, so that the same slip-up can be avoided with their children.

2. Do not be petrified

It is hard to admit, but when our children express certain negative emotions like anger, distress, etc. there is a sense of anxiousness that builds in parents and we are afraid of losing control of our child. That is when parents start to deny their child’s emotions and find reasons to suppress them using sternness or by distracting them.

You need to admit to the fact that just like us, children also have the right to express their feelings and that, not all emotions can be sorted. Which comes to our next point,

3. You cannot always resolve your child’s emotional state.

Let’s take an instance, say your child’s pet passed away. As a parent it is difficult to see your little one experience sorrow, pain and wonder; what should be done to bring back that smile on your child’s face? During such times, it is vital to be there for emotional support. Certain situations might be very silly for you but for your little one, it was close to their heart.

4. Encourage freedom of expression with directions

Do not deny your child’s emotions, instead let them show it. What is more important is, how to express these feelings. Good parenting involves helping children express their emotions and teaching them how to connect with their feelings in the right manner.  Parents should help their children to find the right ways to express their feelings.

5. Share your feelings with your kids

Sometimes, expressing how your day was to your child in a very simple language or talking about something good or bad that happened, aids the child to comprehend how to express their emotions. It is a good way to teach them how feelings and sentiments should be expressed. Parents should let them know, when they are sad, they can talk things out to feel better, or when angry a simple deep breath can make everything feel much better, these are some of the methods to make your child learn how to deal with negative emotions. Dads, this goes for you too, I know men have their ways of expressing, but some prefer not to, its time you learnt how to do so.

According to a neuroscience research study, emotionally healthy leaders are able to label and put language to their emotions. They are able to acknowledge other individuals feelings and actions and recognize how their behavior influences others.

6. Discipline children for their behavior and not their emotions

As parents we have dealt with situations where the child shows their obstinacy and frustrations through tantrums, the mistake parents make is to punish the child for their tantrums and not their behavior. Next time, if you find yourself in this situation, start with an eye contact and ask your child “what is going on?” You can punish him/her by giving them time to reflect on their actions. This way when children mature they are able to go back and ponder on their behavior when they deal with further emotional situations. 

7. Practice and Patience

Parents can have better control over their feelings by consciously identifying their emotions. If you find that you have behaved harshly with your child, or you are trying to figure out why is there a certain emotion clinging on to you, start emotional journaling every night. This way, you can easily find the pattern of your actions and deal with the conditions better. Time, is the answer to this process. Along with practice it is important to give time for the change to take place. Like the saying goes; “Be patient, good things take time.”

When it comes to emotional development and expression, other than parents paying attention to children, schools also play a vital role. I believe that it is important for every school to teach children how to express their emotions in an ethical manner and this has to be incorporated in their elementary years. This is a place where a child becomes socially active and the best place to teach children how to emotionally grow into better individuals.

If there is one thing developmental psychologists have learned over the years, it is that parents don’t have to be brilliant psychologists to succeed. They don’t have to be supremely gifted teachers. Most of the stuff parents do with flashcards and special drills and tutorials to hone their kids into perfect achievement machines don’t have any effect at all. Instead, parents just have to be good enough. They have to provide their kids with stable and predictable rhythms. They need to be able to fall in tune with their kids’ needs, combining warmth and discipline. They need to establish the secure emotional bonds that kids can fall back upon in the face of stress. They need to be there to provide living examples of how to cope with the problems of the world so that their children can develop unconscious models in their heads.

― David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

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