5 keys for raising emotionally healthy children
Raising emotionally healthy children is a common desire all parents strive for. But what does being “emotionally healthy” actually mean? Answering this question can help in addressing the emotional needs of a child and determining how to teach your child to be emotionally healthy. Being emotionally healthy does not mean that they will not have negative emotions, rather it means that your children can respond well to negative emotions and can decrease those negative emotions in an appropriate way. This includes dealing with disappointments and failure, calming down appropriately, reducing anxiety and depressed feelings, handling frustration and stress, and overall seeing the positive in situations. Here are 5 tips for raising emotionally healthy children.
1. Take care of your own emotional health
Parents aren’t perfect and we can’t expect ourselves to be, but we do need to be aware that children mimic behavior, especially in our imperfect moments. However, there is still a lot we can teach our children even amidst our imperfections. Practice new coping methods that you haven’t tried before. This will help you avoid reacting in the same negative way and will show your child that you are working to improve your own behavior too. Also, learn to apologize to your child if you have treated them badly and explain what you could have done differently to improve the situation. Your child will learn that everyone makes mistakes, but that you can work to repair them. The will also learn the skill of apologizing to others. Find healthy hobbies or outlets to model taking care of yourself emotionally. If you find that even with great effort you are not able to handle your anger or depression appropriately, seek help from a therapist. You cannot take care of your kids’ mental health unless you can stabilize yourself first.
2. Label emotions
Increase your child’s emotional vocabulary by labeling the emotions they are feeling. This is an important step in emotional development in children. Try identifying a wide range of emotions, besides just happy, sad, and mad so your child knows how to properly communicate what they are feeling in any given situation. Emotions such as elated, disappointed, frustrated, and exhausted can more fully describe what your child is feeling. Identifying the specific emotion helps to find the root cause of the emotion. Your child may act angry, but as you discuss their anger and identify a more specific emotion, they may realize that they were actually disappointed that a friend didn’t want to play with them that day. Start by verbalizing your own emotions and then suggest possible emotions they are feeling in a variety of situations. They will eventually begin to express their own emotions over time.
3. Don’t prevent negative emotions
Parents don’t like to watch their children hurt, so it’s understandable to act in a way to prevent children from feeling negative emotions. However, saving your child from negative emotions does not prepare them for how to cope with those emotions which will inevitably come. Don’t give in to your child when they whine or cry, don’t always step in to solve the problem when they are in conflict with friends or siblings, enforce a “No” answer, and let natural consequences happen. For example, if your child forgets to take an assignment to school, don’t rush to rescue them. Let them receive a lower grade on the assignment. Kids who are dependent on their parents to solve problems or reduce emotions will struggle with independence and problem solving.
4. Teach your child how to reduce negative emotions
Explore coping methods with your child to see what works to help them calm down emotions such as anger, anxiety, and stress. Keep trying coping methods such as running, journaling, deep breathing, coloring, or playing an instrument until they find something that is effective for them. You can also create a “calm down box” with your child that has several coping items in it, placed in a convenient location, that they can turn to when they need to reduce a negative emotion. Use the skill of Preventive Teaching to teach specific steps of what to do in the moment when they are feeling a negative emotion. Then role-play the steps several times and set-up rewards to use of the steps, if necessary.
5. Listen, empathize and let heal
let heal.Spend one-on-one time with your child, asking specific questions about how they are feeling. Then LISTEN. The steps of Effective Communication are the perfect tool to guide you in fully listening and understanding your child. Express understanding, relate to them, share experiences together, and empathize with how they are feeling. Then explain how emotional hurt, just like physical hurt, heals over time. Their understanding that emotional hurt heals will help with resilience and optimism.
As you apply these 5 tips you will raise socially healthy kids who become successful children and adults, because emotionally healthy children are:
- Respectful and empathetic to others
- Comfortably express themselves
- Attract positive friends
- Are happy