From the moment our children are born and the doctor takes them to be weighed, measured and bundled, their health becomes one of our very highest priorities. As parents, most of us are instinctively attuned to every sneeze, scratch and sleep disruption. We are careful to never miss a check up or ignore a cough. Yet even as we worry over immunisations and stock up on hand soap for flu season, how often do we take the time to sit back and ask ourselves: how emotionally healthy are our children?
According to The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), “An estimated 21 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder…Yet, due to a shortage of paediatric mental health care providers, only 20 percent of these children receive treatment.” In June, the AAP release a toolkit along with other resources to help pediatricians more effectively identify and manage mental health issues in children.
As important as it is to get this message to paediatricians, it is just as important to help parents, who may have trouble identifying that their kids are hurting. On Dec. 4, I will be hosting the free Webinar, “How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children” to help parents, caretakers, teachers, and professionals learn valuable tools for dealing with their children’s emotional struggles. As parents in today’s culture, we find ourselves encouraged to centre our daily lives on our kids. Yet as we focus our attention on carpools, homework and play dates, we run the risk of becoming dangerously distracted from what’s most important: how our children feel. While setting our schedules to make our children a practical priority, is an act of genuine caring; nothing is as valuable or has the positive impact as staying attuned to a child’s feelings, asking her how she is and allowing her to open up about her thoughts, impressions and fears.
In general, many of our children’s emotions get overlooked, as we tend to pay more attention to how they are behaving than how they are feeling. By maintaining an awareness of our children’s psychological state and keeping in mind the following parenting principles, we can become more attuned to our children and learn ways to raise an emotionally healthy child.
– Don’t ignore signs that your child is struggling
Be aware of behavioural changes that could indicate a child is struggling. If a teacher tells us our child has had trouble getting along with other kids in class, we shouldn’t just shrug it off as being out of character and hope for the best – just as we shouldn’t chuckle at how silly our child looks while throwing a temper tantrum. What may start off as small behavioural patterns can elaborate into later behaviours that are concerning. For instance, an exaggerated focus on food or video games can be signs a child is using these things to cut off pain. If left unaddressed, these patterns can lead to obesity or an addiction to drugs and alcohol. And the fits that seem kind of cute coming from a 4-year-old will seem far less charming from a 14-year-old.
– Don’t trivialise how your child is feeling.
It is all too easy for parents to fluff off our children’s moods, chalking them up to developmental stages like the terrible twos or teenage rebellion. Though these stages do contribute to emotional behaviours, it’s important to learn to sensitively relate to our children while they are in these states, and teach them how to cope with their emotions.
When we notice an emotional change in our children, it’s important to try to understand what specifically is impacting them and to respond accordingly. Perhaps something has scared them that they themselves haven’t made sense of, or that they aren’t comfortable talking about. For example, a friend of mine recently noticed his typically outgoing, independent 13-year-old daughter becoming quiet and anxious about being away from him and her mother. It was weeks before my friend realised that his daughter had been deeply shaken after a student at her school lost her parents in an accident.
As we let our children know we are interested in or concerned about their specific struggle, we invite them to investigate their own emotions and to better comprehend their source. By being open and nonjudgmental, we encourage our kids to be honest with us. When they do open up, it is important to react with both compassion and strength. Offering both of these responses helps demonstrate a constructive attitude that our kids can adopt toward themselves and thereby develop a resiliency that will serve them well in future struggles.
NB: To be continued
*Culled from Psychology Today