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How to raise emotionally healthy children

May 19, 2014

As a parent of a two-year-old and an almost four-year-old and a stepparent to a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old, the difficulties and pressures of raising healthy kids are monumental. From societal pressures to familial expectations, the constant question of “Am I doing this right?” never quite goes away.

The funny thing is that our own kids feel this way, too. It took a while for me to realize this: kids are really just small adults. Yes, they are growing and maturing, but in the simplest sense, they have similar pressures and want to be treated with respect. The more respect I have in my tone of voice when speaking to my kids, the more positive results I see from them.

I think sometimes parents make things harder than they need to be. Simply put, kids want to be loved and to make their parents proud, but they also want to be their own person. While there is no definitive right way to raise children, there are certainly ways we can raise them to be emotionally healthy. By building them up and creating strong relationships, our children will have a greater chance of being emotionally healthy adults.

Validate their feelings.

Validation is the opposite of ignoring or dismissing. It means that we acknowledge our children’s emotions, no matter how illogical or trivial they may seem to us. This requires us to refrain from judging these emotions. Tell your children it’s OK to feel how they are feeling. I find myself telling my kids is that it’s OK to feel what you’re feeling, but it is not OK to react in ways that are hurtful. Validation will go a long way – you will see your children’s stress ease a little knowing that their feelings are acknowledged and that they are loved in a nonjudgmental way, no matter what they may be feeling.

Eliminate “should” statements.

I struggle with this one on a daily basis with myself. “I should go for a run today” or “I should do another load of laundry.” These are statements that are invalidating on their own. Piggybacking on the idea of validating feelings, using more problem-solving language in place of “should” statements will reduce the burden that children often feel when their parents say “You should have done this.” Again, that is an invalidating statement that can be flipped around and stated more like “What do you think you could have done differently in that situation?” The language is subtle, but the outcomes of tweaking these thoughts and statements will be huge.

Celebrate little things.

This is an easy one to do, but we get so caught up in our daily lives that it’s easy to forget. My almost four-year-old son has been getting himself dressed for the last two months. For more than 60 days, I walk into his room and am greeted with a big smile and him saying “I undressed myself and picked out my clothes, mom!” My husband and I continue to celebrate this feat every morning because we can see him glowing with pride. Just recognizing little things can make a huge difference to our children. Sure, they love the celebrations for big achievements, but even simple acknowledgements for handling difficult situations positively can give our kids a little boost in their confidence. They’ll have a better sense of feeling like they are doing this kid-thing “right.”

And last, but certainly not least, let them fail.

Failure builds character. Without failing, our children won’t know how to pick themselves up. I don’t plan on being there to fix all of my children’s mistakes as they grow into adults. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be there to support them when they’re having a tough time, but I can’t solve all of their problems as they continue to grow. By jumping in to save our children from every bump or bruise or challenge with friends or teachers, we are effectively showing them that we don’t think they can handle it. This, again, invalidates our children and their feelings about themselves. We need to let them fail so they learn how to pick themselves up and learn something from it.

All in all, validating our children’s emotions and recognizing the great things they do every day can help turn a child with low self-esteem into one who exudes confidence in all that they do. By celebrating successes and working through failures together, both the parents and children will have a better sense they are doing things “right,” a stronger bond will be developed and a cycle of positive parenting will be created.