Between trying to get everyone to school on time, packing lunches, and keeping up with housework, the basics of parenting can be challenging. Your child is growing physically and intellectually, but it’s important to remember that they are also growing emotionally.
Just like they may need help with math homework, your child also needs guidance when handling their emotions. How they perform as adults relies on their emotional intelligence just as much as their academics. Check out the blog post: Is it true that children succeed in life because of emotional intelligence? for more information.
There are plenty of ways to help your child grow up to be an emotionally healthy adult. Here are a few ways to support your child as they grow.
1. Pay Attention to How Your Child Is Feeling
Recognizing the signs of emotional struggles is the first step in supporting your child’s emotional health. If you notice your child acting out or their behavior suddenly changes, consider talking about your concerns with them (if they are old enough). Allow them to express themselves while also maintaining boundaries and rules that are sensible and fair.
Validate their feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel how they feel. Remember that while something like losing a sporting match in middle school may not seem like a big deal to you, it may feel crushing for your child.
Acting out is common with younger children, especially if they aren’t old enough to properly express their needs. Family therapy can be helpful in these cases. Check out Why Should We Try Family Therapy When It’s Our Child Who Is Acting Out?
2. Spend Quality Time Together
Spending quality time together is vital for your child’s emotional and mental health. A strong connection with a parent or parent figure gives your child the security to explore who they are in a safe environment.
Consider engaging in activities like sports, art, or making music. Make an effort to discover their interests. Allow them room to make decisions for themselves about what they would like to pursue. You may be surprised at the things they will teach you along the way.
Watching shows together can be a great way to connect, but keep in mind the possible harmful effects of too much screen time. The blog post: Screen Use Addiction in Children and Adolescents, covers this topic in-depth.
3. Teach Coping Skills
Teach your child simple techniques to practice whenever they become overwhelmed or upset. Try teaching them to breathe in and hold for a few seconds and then blow out and hold for a few seconds. This will calm your child and allow them to create space between them and the upsetting situation.
Another technique is to have them pay attention to how each part of their body feels, starting with their feet and working their way up. Mindfulness can also help.
4. Teach Healthy Ways of Releasing Emotions
Healthily releasing strong emotions can be difficult at any age. Help your child identify their feelings and then give them options for handling them. Would they like to practice a sport or run around the block? Perhaps they find crying, art, listening to music, or reading to be soothing.
Giving your child an outlet for their emotions will allow them to form healthy habits that will last long into adulthood.
5. Create a Safe Space
As a parent, your job is to keep your child safe. This includes giving them a place where they feel emotionally secure. While some children may want time to themselves in the privacy of their room, remember that you should ultimately be their safest confidant. Allow your child to talk without judgment, and be careful to keep your own emotions in check. Establishing a relationship based on mutual respect is vital to their mental health and the overall health of your family.
6. Help Your Child Become Organized
From school and chores to extracurricular activities, children at any age can become overwhelmed. Having a family calendar is a great start, but as your child grows, help them create their own. Consider making a daily chore list with a space to add homework assignments to help ease stress and teach them valuable time management skills for the future.
7. Instill Strong Values From a Young Age
Teaching strong values starts with understanding your own. What morals do you value? What kind of traits do you hope to pass down to your child? Once you know what is most important to you, you can help instill those beliefs in your child.
For example, if telling the truth is something you value highly, consider rewarding that action when your child does it, even if they lied at first, to show them that being honest and coming clean is the best action.
Help them understand the importance of telling the truth by explaining how it impacts those around them and their own character. Just be sure to keep the conversation age appropriate. And remember, children learn more by example than by lecture.
8. Pay Attention to How They Talk to Themselves
Does your child call themselves dumb when they mess up? Do they say they are ugly when clothing doesn’t fit right? Watch out for negative phrases and gently remind them to be kinder to themselves. They weren’t dumb; they just made a mistake. They aren’t ugly; it just wasn’t the right size. If your child continues to call themselves names or have negative self-talk, it may be time to try counseling for your child.
9. Lead By Example
Show your child what it means to be healthy by practicing the techniques above yourself. Feeling stressed? Engage in your own emotional outlet. Talk to yourself kindly and gracefully, and practice breathing exercises whenever you feel stressed. Let your child know that adults aren’t perfect, and that’s okay. Your child will pick up on these habits and, more often than not, will model your behavior.
10. Seek Support
Much like modeling emotionally healthy behavior, seeking support shows your child that asking for help is a sign of strength. If you’re struggling, consider reading parenting books or listening to podcasts. Reach out to family, trusted friends, or form a support group of fellow parents for advice and support.
Consider seeking professional support if family difficulties become too challenging to solve on your own or if you would like to be proactive in caring for your family’s mental well-being. Start by reading the article Understanding the Levels of Mental Health Care Available for Children and Adolescents; contact us on our contact page, or call us at 616-200-4433.
Written by Kaitlyn Pfiester; edited and reviewed by Paul Krauss MA LPC