You are interacting with a child and you catch yourself being short. You realize your patience has worn thin, and you are not emotionally available at this moment. As a parent, loved one, caregiver or authority figure, you want the child to feel appreciated and understood, but are not able to give them the attention or support they want at that moment. You know this will lead to an upset child and cannot help but wonder what can be done to prevent it from happening. Here you will find seven ways to help raise emotionally healthy children so they are able to cope and understand instead of becoming upset, having hurt feelings, or developing negative attention seeking behaviors.
1) Give Undivided Attention
Failing to give children your undivided attention, even only for five minutes, is going to be detrimental to their self-esteem and overall well-being, regardless of the age. Giving them the attention they crave and need will help them feel loved, cared for and valuable, especially if they see how busy you are. Be fully present while doing so as well--turn off electronics, put the cell phone down and step away from any activity, so they truly feel worthy. If you cannot offer five minutes, then do one and make it count. Think quality versus quantity.
2) Create a "Safe Space"
Make sure you do everything you can to create a "safe space" for children to feel safe. Help them feel safe and be able to approach you, especially when it comes to something that might be upsetting to you, such as confessing to breaking something, having a difference in opinion, having a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. You can do so by modeling honesty, building trust, and following through. You can build trust by repeatedly affirming that they can come to you for anything and can tell you anything, even if they think it will upset you. You can also add that it might upset you, but you would rather know and appreciate their honesty. Also, make sure you follow through as much as you can so they see you are trustworthy and consistent, which will naturally make them feel safe.
3) Teach Emotional Awareness
Teaching children early on to be emotionally aware is very important; however, it is never too late to do so. Help them become familiar with all their emotions and feelings and to identify how they feel and look for them. Check in with them throughout the day and ask how they are feeling and why. This will bring their attention to their feelings, and will help them to recognize how they process certain emotions, as well as why they feel the way they do. Also, teach them what is socially appropriate for different ages, such as a two-year-old throwing a tantrum for not getting their way versus a seven-year-old, and how they are socially expected to respond to other people's emotions.
4) Listen and Validate
Encourage children to use their words to express themselves and actually listen to what they say. If they say to you they are grumpy because they are hungry, even though they just ate, do not discredit them by responding with something like, "You are not hungry, you just ate." Instead validate what they said to you with something like, "I am sorry to hear you are hungry, can I get you something else to eat," or, "You say you are grumpy because you are hungry, is that the only reason you are grumpy?" This will help them feel understood and validated because you are acknowledging what they said as truth, and you are also showing them you are listening.
5) Identify Coping Skills
It is one thing to be emotionally aware, and it is another to be emotionally aware and have coping skills to help when needed. Help children identify coping skills that can be used, especially individually. Let them know what they can do when they are angry, sad, scared, happy, etc., and write it down and place it where they will see it. This will serve as a reminder, but it will also help them to be able to take matters into their own hands. For younger children, draw pictures and turn it into a song,"When you are angry and you feel it, stomp around, count to 10, take deep breaths, listen to music, color, run up and down the hallway." Also, make sure to identify coping skills that can be used at all times, such as deep breathing, counting, imagery, tapping, etc.
6) Teach Forgiveness and Letting Go Daily
Teaching children forgiveness will help them preserve their optimistic outlook and keep an open heart. This will also teach them to move forward and not hold onto things, especially hurtful things. Teach them to forgive and let go daily. Encourage them to let go and forgive their dog for eating their toy or their friend who did not wave back or their sibling who took their toy. You will notice the more they do it, the less hurt their feelings become and the less demanding or needy they become of you or anyone else around them.
Children thrive off of attention, and they will get it even if it means doing so negatively. Pay attention to what you are feeding. Are you feeding positive attention for positive behaviors or negative attention for negative behaviors? If a child is in need of your attention and you are busy, do you not give them that attention until they push your buttons and you react or explode? If so, they got what they wanted--your attention--in a negative way. It can be difficult at times, but consciously choose to feed only the positive behavior and do so very animated for the little ones, since what they see is your intensity--and it will encourage the children in your life to be positive, to behave, to be happy and to be healthy.