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ParenTalk- How To Raise An Emotionally Healthy Child

ParenTalk- How To Raise An Emotionally Healthy Child

Our child’s health holds paramount importance for us. Right from their birth, we do everything in our capability to ensure good health for them. We pay close attention to food, water, environment, immunization, and healthcare. However, emotional health remains one of the ignored aspects. Children’s mental health is as important as their physical health. 

Of course, I love my child! The playroom has all toys imaginable and my child seems happy.

Well, it is not your intention that is under the scanner. In an increasingly complex world, mental wellbeing in children is deteriorating. The statistics are alarming. UNICEF has recently published State of World children 2021 to draw attention to the mental health of children worldwide. The publication includes the findings of a survey that shows about 14% of 15-24-year-olds in India report depression. The AAP, AACAP, and CHA have also declared a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental health in the United States.

If you have a baby, it is never too early for you to think about your child’s mental wellbeing

Some parents argue their children are too young for them to be thinking about mental health. Remember, teenagers and adults do not magically fall prey to mental health issues. The foundation for mental wellness needs to be laid right from birth. While you may be completely invested in your children’s routine, it is important to focus on how they feel. As a parent, it is important to be conscious of the impact of your words and actions on your child’s mind.

Tips for children’s mental health:

Focus on their feeling more than their behavior
Imagine a child throwing a tantrum. What feelings does it instill within you? You label the child as adamant or perceive it as misbehavior. Your natural response is to fix the behavior. You wish to discourage the child from repeating it. If words or coercion don’t work, it understandably reaches a point of frustration. It leaves you worried about the child’s future. Trying to determine why the child is behaving in such a way can help. The child is having a hard time and doesn’t have the tools to express his/her feelings. As you try to convince them to behave appropriately, their feeling remains unaddressed. Thus, they find it hard to end the tantrum. 

Telling the child that you understand how they feel, works best in such situations. Empathetic statements like “Oh, I think you are sad, how about a hug” work better than “Stop crying now”. According to research, how a child identifies a particular emotion depends on how the parent perceives it and reacts to it.

Behavioral changes may indicate that your child is struggling; do not ignore them
If you notice unusual behavior in your child, try to get to its root. Maybe something is troubling the child and they are struggling to express it. Even changes such as eating an unusually high quantity of food or unusually high activity levels could be red flags. You must address such issues at a young age than dismiss them as cute behaviors. This will help you avoid them as the child grows older and faces more complex challenges. 

Do not dismiss or make fun of their emotions if they open up to you
Children are highly impressionable. Your response when the child opens up to you will set the stage for your future interactions with the child. It may seem trivial to you when they say that they are afraid of the dark. However, it is a big deal for them. Laughing at them or dismissing it as childish behavior will discourage them from admitting their fears to you in the future. Your sensitivity in dealing with their emotions will determine their mental wellbeing. 

 

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Talk to them about their struggle
Years ago, when my sister was 13 years old, she suddenly started making excuses to avoid attending her maths tuitions. My parents were worried and I remember them coming up with a list of probable issues she could be facing. They suspected eve-teasing on the way, difficulty in coping up with the syllabus, and also that the class timings coincided with her favorite show on TV. However, when she admitted that she felt excluded in the class and the teacher wasn’t warm enough, no one regarded it as a valid reason. She was judged for being inattentive and over-sensitive. Her grades dipped and she still holds the incident close to her heart. She wishes that our parents understood her struggle. 

Understanding their struggles, expressing concern, and inviting them to work out a solution collectively instills problem-solving abilities in children. Contrary to the popular perception, it doesn’t make them feel entitled. It encourages them to be open, honest, and positive towards themselves.

Be sensitive when they express disappointment
Children do not know manipulation or drama. If they express disappointment, they are not looking for a lecture or an insight into their material privileges. Mostly, they just need to be heard. Many parents invite children to express themselves but get defensive in response. This discourages the kids from speaking up again. For instance, my 4-year-old came up to me some months ago to express that I had not read him a single book for many days and he felt sad. My natural reaction was to tell him how work was important to ensure we had food on our plates and books on our shelves. I didn’t even take my eyes off my screen as I delivered that monologue. “But I do not want any more books or toys and we have enough rice in the kitchen”, came the reply and he walked off with a grim expression. It was a lesson for me that all he wanted to do was to be heard and hugged. I justified my unavailability at a time when he was already disappointed. A simple apology would have been better than being defensive. 

 

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Spend quality time with them
It is easy to go on a guilt trip thinking that our career or family commitments do not allow us enough time with our children. However, the real deal is to spend quality time with your children, however short the duration is. Magda Gerber, who was an early childhood professional, emphasized the need to be mindful and undistracted in interactions with children. If other worries and thoughts are cluttering your mind, spending a lot of time with the child barely has any positive impact on their mental wellbeing. Whether you are listening to their stories or playing a game with them, be available completely without a phone or a book in hand or a multitude of thoughts in mind. Even if you spend 10 mins with them, be with them, undistracted.

Share your feelings with them
Talking to them about how your day went and expressing how you felt a multitude of emotions will encourage them to share as well. It will also help them come to terms with emotions that feel weird or uncomfortable.

Ask them for their opinions and suggestions
Do you think we should buy a red car or a blue? What should have I done when the neighbor was rude to me? I dislike the taste of the curry we prepared today, but I do not want it to go to waste. What should I do? Ask them for their opinions and suggestions without patronizing them. This will make them feel valued.

Do not shy away from external help
Mental health awareness has gained momentum over the past few years. However, we still leave our children’s mental health to time. While it is okay to hope for time to resolve their fear, stress, and anxiety, it isn’t wise to continue waiting until the situation goes out of hand. Try your best to fulfill their emotional needs, but do not shy away from seeing a mental health professional if things do not seem to improve.

Teach them self-care
Only fevers and tummy aches are not valid reasons to skip school. Let the child stay home if they say they feel low. Do not force them to speak to or greet people they are not comfortable with and offer them emotional tools to cut themselves off from toxic people and situations. Model self-care and let them learn from example. Do not always mask your stresses, show them your true feelings as well. Normalize sadness and anger and model constructive ways to deal with such feelings.

Most importantly, take care of your emotional health. A happy parent is better equipped to raise a happy child.

 

 

Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.

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