Many people were raised with authoritarian parenting methods. And basically, all this means is that the parents’ choices were fear-based choices, instead of love-centered choices. It means that there was a lot of coercion instead of openness.
Because of this upbringing, many of us don’t know how to support our child’s emotional development. Without realizing it, we repeat the same mistakes our parents did only to create bad habits of our own. To truly help your child thrive emotionally, read on for some life-changing tips and suggestions.
What is Emotional Development and Why Is It Important?
Emotional development is what allows you to regulate and express your emotions. It’s how you can feel emotions about yourself, other people and the rest of the world. From their infancy, children start to develop emotionally. Your parenting approach can either support this development, or block it.
Emotional development might not seem very important, especially in comparison to cognitive and physical growth. But children who are emotionally stable can go on to live successful lives. The National Academy of Sciences had this to say about it:
“Strong social-emotional development underlies all later social, emotional, and academic success. Young children who develop strong early relationships with parents, family, caregivers, and teachers learn how to pay attention, cooperate, and get along with others. They are confident in their ability to explore and learn from the world around them.”
The following suggestions can help you set your child up for success by supporting their emotional development.
Let Children Believe That All Emotions are Okay
If children believe that certain emotions are “bad”, or something they should be ashamed of, this will block their emotional development. It’s very rare that parents will advise their children to stop feeling positive emotions, like contentment, excitement and happiness.
But how often do parents tell their children that they shouldn’t be sad, scared or angry? More often than not, right? This leads children to believe that some emotions are bad.
Forget About Your Stiff Upper Lip
Sometimes as parents, we feel the need to be strong. We think it’s necessary to hide our upset feelings from our children.
However, it’s important that your children see you experiencing different emotions, positive or negative. This helps them observe a wide range of emotions. They learn that it’s okay to feel different emotions. It also helps them become empathetic individuals.
Try Connection Parenting
Pam Leo, author of Connection Parenting, says that “the level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.” In other words, to have a functional relationship with your children, you’ve got to have a meaningful connection with them first.
How can we create connection instead of disconnection? By listening to them and helping them feel loved. It means responding to them in a way that will close the gap, instead of widening the gap between parent and child.
Show Love and Affection
Showing love and affection may be easier with our daughters than with our sons. We may also favor some children over the other. However, it is crucial that each child feels loved and valued. It isn’t enough to say, “I love you”.
Instead, be present to your child, and allow them to share what’s important to them. Provide a space where they can be open with you about anything and everything without the fear of being punished, judged or ashamed.
Don’t Blow Off Your Child’s Emotional Experience
As adults, we might be able to cope with disappointment more quickly and discreetly than our children. We might also think that what’s important to our children isn’t really that big of a deal. But that doesn’t mean that our children’s emotional experiences aren’t real and powerful, too.
For example, if your child is freaking out because she can’t see her best friend (who she just saw yesterday), you might grow impatient and tell her to just get over it. Instead, try to acknowledge her sadness and empathize with her. How do you feel when you can’t see your best friend?
Try to bring this empathetic approach to the interactions you have with your child’s emotional experiences.
Let Children Problem-Solve
If your child is upset about something, or even quarreling with a peer, your first instinct as a parent, is to intervene and return everything back to normal as quickly as possible.
But by doing so, you rob your child of an opportunity to work through his emotions responsibly, and to create his own solutions. It’s okay to offer supportive guidance when necessary, but try to sit back, be patient and watch as your child solves his own problems.
Be Honest with Your Children
In an effort to keep the day’s itinerary going smoothly, and to stay in control, parents sometimes lie about upcoming situations. For example, before a vaccination shot, dentist appointment or even an ear piercing, it’s tempting to say, “It won’t hurt.” But it’s better to be upfront with your child and let her know what to expect. If someone you know dies, or your child has to meet someone who is injured, disabled, or has an unfortunate condition, give them a head’s up.
Lying to our children makes it difficult for them to trust us in the future. Plus, it makes it more difficult for them to cope with uncomfortable and painful emotions. Of course, you don’t want to scare your child or traumatize them.
But you do want to communicate to them in a way they’ll understand. This helps them process and handle their natural emotions better.
Negative Emotions are Okay, Bad Behavior Isn’t
There’s no such thing as a bad emotion. Sure, there are plenty of negative ones, but it’s okay to experience them. What’s not okay is when we react to them with bad behavior. This is a sign of poor emotional development.
As a parent, help your child know that it’s okay to feel upset. Let them know that you understand why they’re upset. But at the same time, remind them that tantrums and other unruly behaviors aren’t the best way to work through these negative emotions.
No matter what type of parenting you grew up with, you can always support your child’s emotional development. It’s a privilege and will benefit not only your child, but you, too!