Emotional health is a trickier topic than sniffles and skinned knees. If you have a toddler, teach them what emotions are, how to manage their feelings, and how to empathize with others. As your child matures, encourage them to share their feelings with you, and be a good role model by keeping your own emotions in check. While you need to ensure they’re safe, independence is a key aspect of emotional health. It might be tough to hold back, but letting your child do things on their own can help them become a confident, well-adjusted adult.
EditTeaching Your Kids about Emotions
- Label emotions for your toddler or preschooler. When your child first starts learning to talk, start teaching them basic emotions, such as happy, sad, angry, and afraid. Children’s books, drawings of smiley or sad faces, and making exaggerated facial expressions are great ways to teach your kids how to recognize emotions.
- For instance, point at a drawing and say, “Kitty won a prize and is happy,” or ask, “What do you think this face means?”
- Songs and games such as “When you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” can help them connect actions with emotions.
- In addition to helping them recognize others’ emotions, ask your child how they might help a sad or angry character. Ask, for example, “Kitty took doggie’s toys, and doggie is sad. How can we help doggie feel better?”
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings when they’re upset. Young children throw tantrums when they experience an overwhelming emotion that they can’t express in words. Instead of just telling your child to be quiet when they’re upset, help them use their words. Let them know that you want to help, but remind them that you can only understand them if they use their nice voice.
- If you child is crying because they want a toy, say, “I know you’re sad because you want the toy, and I want to help. Maybe if you use your nice voice we can find a fun game to play.”
- Help them learn how to cope with their emotions. Provide your younger child with coping tools, and continue to reinforce these tools as they mature. Ways of coping with emotions such as anger or sadness include taking deep breaths, counting to 10, and drawing a picture of their frustration.
- Tell your child, “Everyone gets upset, but it’s never okay to hurt someone or break something. Instead of yelling or hitting, we can take deep breaths to relax, sing a song, or draw a picture of why we’re sad.”
- Encourage your kids to talk about their feelings. To lay a foundation when they’re young, ask your child how they feel in various situations. Discuss their day at preschool or dance class, and ask questions such as, “How did you feel when Sally took your toy?” As they grow up, remind them throughout their middle school and adolescent years that they can always come to you to vent or ask for advice.
- No matter their age, remember to always give your child your undivided attention during conversations. Don’t play on your phone or answer emails when they’re telling you about their feelings.
- Sometimes, you might need to resist the urge to scold or lecture. For example, suppose your child has a bad attitude during dinner. Instead of scolding them for being fresh, try asking why they’re upset. Comfort them, if necessary, and stress that it’s better to talk about feelings instead of holding them in and making a scene.
- Set a good example by regulating your own emotions. Children of all ages look up to their parents, so model self-control for your kids. Avoid blowing your top, slamming doors, throwing things, and other hostile behavior. If you and your spouse or co-parent have a disagreement in front of your kids, stay calm and resolve it in private instead of screaming and hurling insults.
- Regulating your emotions doesn’t mean you should act like a robot in front of your kids. It’s good to express emotions in front of them, whether you’re elated or upset.
- However, you should demonstrate self-control in the moment, such as by by taking deep breaths or counting to 10. In the long-term, you can blow off steam by exercising, listening to music, or writing.
- Teach them about accountability and empathy when they hurt others. If your child misbehaves, seize the opportunity to teach them how to make amends. It’s especially important to teach younger children how to empathize with others. If you have a toddler or preschooler, help them understand how their actions affect others’ emotions.
- If your child steals a toy, explain that their actions have consequences and they need to say that they’re sorry. Ask, “How would you feel if someone took your toy? Wouldn’t you be sad? That’s how you made Sam feel.”
- When one child hurts another, make sure to give lots of affection to the one who was hurt. Say, “Oh I’m so sorry that Sally took your toy! That wasn’t very nice, and I know it makes you very sad.” Modeling empathy can help the other child understand that they shouldn’t hurt others.
EditBalancing Boundaries and Freedom
- Help your child learn how to perform tasks to build their confidence. Self-confidence is the foundation of resilience, which is the ability to cope with life’s challenges. Teaching your child how to do things by themselves and giving them independence helps boost their confidence. As early as possible, begin teaching them age-appropriate skills and chores.
- For example, teach your preschooler how to tie their shoes and pick out their outfits, let your middle schooler help out in the kitchen, and teach your teen how to drive.
- Keep in mind this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t supervise your child or put them in danger. For instance, if your kindergartner helps you in the kitchen, don’t let them use a sharp object or touch the stove.
- Give your child age-appropriate rights and responsibilities. Your child needs an increasing amount of privacy, freedom, and independence as they mature. In addition to respecting their rights, assign chores to remind them that responsibilities also increase with age. To strike a balance between your rules and their freedom, work together to define their responsibilities.
- Your teen, for example, has a right to ask you to knock before entering their room. Respect their boundaries, unless you suspect they’re in danger or violating your trust.
- As the parent, you set the rules. However, you should allow your preteen or teen to have a say in how and when to complete tasks, such as doing homework, taking out the trash, or cleaning their room.
- Work with other co-parents to set fair, consistent rules. Make sure you and any other co-parents are on the same page when it comes to discipline. Children are more likely to respect rules that are predictable and consistent. When rules are inconsistent or unreasonable, kids are more likely to become angry and push back against authority.
- For example, suppose you work at night and your spouse lets your child stay up hours past their bedtime watching inappropriate TV shows. Tell your spouse, “We need to get on the same page. If we don’t enforce the same rules, our child isn’t going to respect our authority.”
- If you and your child’s other parent aren’t together, try to establish the same rules and consequences in both of your households.
- Limit your child’s screen time. Phones, computers, and video games can cut into quality family time, schoolwork, sleep, and extracurricular activities. Additionally, cyber-bullying is widespread on social media, and advertisements, TV shows, and movies are packed with unrealistic beauty and lifestyle standards. Try to limit screen time to 2 hours per day or less, designate phone-free zones, and avoid keeping a computer or TV in your child’s room.
- Make it a rule that your child has to keep their phone in a common area overnight instead of taking it to bed. During family meals, set a no-phone rule.
- Be sure to follow your own screen time rules. Don’t play on your phone during dinner, or text while your child is telling you about their day.
- Keep in mind strict screen time rules can make your child feel excluded at school. It might be helpful to talk to their teachers or friends’ parents about general guidelines for cell phones and social media use.
- Deliver reasonable consequences related to a broken rule. Natural consequences, or the direct results of misbehavior, are great teaching tools. When rule-breaking doesn’t lead to a natural consequence, come up with a punishment that’s related to the behavior.
- For example, if they ditched practice to hang out with friends, the natural consequence is that they get kicked off of the team.
- If your preschooler colors on the walls, make them clean it up, and take their crayons away for the rest of the day. If your teen stays out past their curfew, ground them for a weekend or set a curfew that’s an hour earlier.
- Your aim should be to correct the behavior, not vent your frustrations. Screaming at them or issuing a harsh punishment that’s not related to the broken rule aren’t effective teaching tools.
EditBuilding a Strong Bond
- Set aside time every day for quality conversations. Good times to talk might be on way to school, during breakfast or dinner, or before bed. When you chat, ask your child specific questions about their day instead of general yes or no questions. While you don’t want to come off as intrusive, open-ended questions can help convey your interest and spark the conversation.
- For example, instead of asking, “Did you have a good day,” ask, “What was the coolest thing you learned at school,” or “What’s something funny that happened today?”
- Your child will be more likely to confide in you if you regularly spend quality time together.
- If you think they’re dealing with a problem, avoid pushing them to tell you. Instead of making demands, let them know they can trust you, and say, “I’m happy to listen or offer advice if you need it.” They might feel more comfortable talking about difficult topics if you give them some space.
- Develop family rituals, such as shared meals and weekend outings. Family rituals and routines can solidify your bond and offer your child a sense of stability. Try to eat breakfast or dinner together daily, or as often as your schedules allow. On the weekends, you could go for bike rides or hikes, or go to ball games together.
- Learn about your child’s interests, and do things together related to those interests. If they love music, go to a concert together. If they’re passionate about baseball, go to college or professional games whenever possible.
- Let your child pick the activities, within reason. They might be more likely get excited about spending quality time together when they’re allowed to make decisions. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank to do a costly activity.
- Help them find an outlet if they don’t want to confide in you. You might have a strong bond, but it’s not always easy to share things with a parent. If you know something’s on their mind and they won’t open up, encourage them to spend time with a trusted loved one. For instance, they might have an easier time confiding in an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or close family friend.
- Don’t take it personally if your child doesn’t want to open up to you. Whether they’re getting bullied or having trouble with their grades, some subjects are tough to discuss with parents. They’re better off talking to someone else than bottling up their feelings.
- If they open up to a trusted loved one, it’s best to respect their privacy. If they’re not in danger or breaking the law, respecting their boundaries is the healthiest option.
- Keep up with your kid’s clique. Getting to know their friends (and their friends’ parents) can help you stay involved in their life.
- Do your best to avoid fighting with your spouse in front of your child, especially if you’re shouting angrily at each other. If you and your spouse have a disagreement, settle it in private or ask your child to go play in another room.
- Letting go is tough, but allowing your child to do things on their own is essential, even if they make mistakes. It helps build confidence, and gives them get a sense of what to do, what not to, and how to deal with obstacles.
- All children go through struggles. However, it might be best to call a mental health professional if you’ve noticed concerning signs, such as extreme shifts in behavior, loss of interests in normal activities, sudden weight changes, or trouble with the law.
EditSources and Citations
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