From the moment our children are born, as parents we are attuned to their every need, cry, sneeze, sniffle, and sleep disruption. We are very cautious and never fail to check-up on their physical health systematically. Yet, how often do we take the time to understand and evaluate how emotionally healthy our children are?
For every vulnerable baby born into this world, family has the greatest influence over how happy and emotionally healthy they are. It is often moms and dads and siblings who give kids a sense of belonging and help them create their own unique identity in this world. “The family is profoundly important to the developmental, emotional and cognitive growth of a child,” says Tamara Gold, a New York parenting coach. “A child will learn about relationships, manners, self-esteem, worth and loyalty, all by watching and participating in family”.
Families help shape a child’s personal values and social behaviors and play an integral role in how a child flourishes in every aspect of his or her lives. Families are also a source of emotional support and comfort, warmth and nurturing, protection and security. The Good Childhood Report (2012) found that families had the biggest impact on children’s happiness and well-being.
Children who have happy and secure home lives are more likely to be confident, sociable and positive in their outlook. In addition to ensuring your child is happy and secure, it is important to ask him or her how she is feeling and encourage them to open up about their thoughts, feelings, impressions, and fears. Even young children have insecurities and fears that as a parent you need to be attuned to.
As a parent, you know your child the best and instinctively understand their needs and desires. Just by paying more attention to how they ‘feel’, and not just what they ‘need’, we can learn ways to raise emotionally healthy children. Here are a few quick ideas to keep in mind as you learn to pay attention to your child’s emotions. Just remember that there is no ‘right’ way to parent, as every family has different strengths and challenges.
Understand the stages of development
As a parent, it is important to know what behaviors to expect at any given age for your child. Being familiar with developmental milestones can help you identify problems at an early stage. “The signs of emotional health vary with age, and what is appropriate at one age may be a red flag at another age,” says Geoff Nagle, PhD, MPH, director of the Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Help them build self-esteem
As parents, we want to make everything perfect and wonderful for our children. But every child has to face life’s challenges and disappointments and learn from their own mistakes. It is therefore important to teach your children to love and accept themselves for who they are. This will help them develop self-esteem, and give them a strong sense of self-worth as they grow up into adults.
Spend quality time with your child
While it is important to spend quality time with your children, try not to become a ‘helicopter’ parent. Such parents tend to be overly involved in children’s lives, and do not let them learn from their mistakes or from normal childhood experiences. As a result, kids may become anxious/depressed under the stress.
Know when to seek help
If your child shows an unusual amount of anxiety, fear, anger, stress or pain, it is important to get him the help he or she needs. Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Derenne suggests that, “parents should seek help if the child has prolonged periods of depressed mood, fluctuating moods or overwhelming anxiety”.
Deal with your own emotional problems
Kids tend to be highly attuned to their parents’ moods and behaviors. So if you are dealing with your own issues such as depression or addiction etc., it is important to seek treatment before the problem affects your kids. While it is important to give priority and take interest in your child’s life and well-being, if you are not feeling content and fulfilled in your own life, you are very likely doing more bad than good in terms of your children’s emotional well-being.
Every child feels the need to ‘matter’ to his/her family, and remember you do not need to be a perfect parent to make your child feel wanted. By maintaining constant awareness of your child’s psychological state and by simply being there for them, we can become more attuned to our children and learn ways to raise an emotionally healthy child.