I recently spoke with psychiatrist and good friend of mine Dr. Joshua Straub about the importance of raising emotionally healthy kids.
It’s not necessarily a topic we parents dwell on intentionally, but it is vitally important to be aware of the do’s and don’t’s so your child can develop into an emotionally healthy adult.
1. Encourage feelings with rules.
Children need to have the freedom to feel what they feel, whether or not we like what they’re feeling. They need to learn the appropriate emotional reactions to go with life’s circumstances.
Children need to have the freedom to feel what they feel.
parents show their children how to identify feelings and how to express them.
Here’s how parents can help their children identify and label their feelings, regulate them, and respond appropriately. For example, if your child has a dog that dies, grieving should be allowed. If your son gets hit at school, he’s allowed to feel angry, but he is not allowed to hit back. Children must learn that when they express feelings, there are certain rules that have to be followed.
2. Don’t always try to fix your child’s feelings.
Many times, children need to be given the freedom to feel emotions without being encouraged to change them. As parents, we can watch our children experience hard emotions like grief, anger or bitterness, and we want to change those feelings for them. Sometimes we are so uncomfortable with our kids’ feelings that we communicate to them that they shouldn’t feel what they’re feeling.
It’s incredibly important for us not to do this, rather support our children so they feel safe to express their emotions and not feel that we are trying to fix them.
3. Don’t tell your children that they shouldn’t feel a certain way.
Nothing makes children feel more frustrated than when their feelings are discredited. Some of you may have memories of growing up when a parent told you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way because it was dumb or stupid i.e., “Why would you be so upset over such-and-such? That’s such a silly thing to be upset about.” It’s very important for parents to affirm their children’s feelings, let them express their emotions, and never tell them that they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way. They feel what they feel and we can’t regulate that.
Your child’s emotions are real and should be acknowledged without trying to be changed.
Parents may disagree with a child’s emotion, but when done aloud, the child is hearing that he is wrong to have those feelings and, in turn, doubts his ability to react in a healthy matter. Let your children react and if you believe they are being unreasonable, you can revisit their reaction a week or so after the fact and talk through it with them when they are calm. Go back over the situation and ask if they think their reaction was appropriate. Ask them questions about how they think they should respond in future, rather than telling them how to feel or react.
Children will mature in their feelings and learn to regulate their reactions over time. Often, an overreaction is simply a sign of immaturity, which they will outgrow. In the meantimemy, be patient while guiding them through this labyrinth that makes us human.