I recently spoke with psychiatrist and good friend Dr. Joshua Straub about the importance of raising emotionally healthy kids.
It’s not necessarily a topic we as parents dwell on intentionally.
But it is vitally important to be aware of the do’s and don’ts so your child can develop into an emotionally healthy adult.
1.) Encourage feelings with rules. Children need to have the freedom to feel what they feel, whether or not we as parents like what they’re feeling. They need to learn appropriate feelings to go with life’s circumstances. Good parents show their children how to express their feelings in a healthy way and how to identify them.
Dr. Josh and I talk about how moms and dads can help their child identify and label their feelings, regulate them, and respond appropriately. For example: If your child has a dog that dies, your child should be allowed to grieve. If your son gets hit at school, he’s allowed to feel angry, but he is not allowed to hit back. Children must learn that when they express feelings, there are certain rules that need to be followed.
2.) Don’t always try to fix your child’s feelings. Many times, children need to be given the freedom to feel emotions without being encouraged to change them. As parents, we can watch our children experience hard emotions like grief, anger or bitterness, and we will want to change those feelings for them. Sometimes we are so uncomfortable with our kids’ feelings that we communicate to them that they shouldn’t feel what they’re feeling.
It’s incredibly important for us not to do that, but to support our children so they feel safe to express their emotions — and not feel that we are trying to fix them.
3.) Don’t tell your children that they shouldn’t feel a certain way. Nothing makes a child feel more frustrated than when you discredit how they are feeling. Some of you may have memories of growing up where a parent told you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way because it was dumb or stupid, e.g., “Why would you be so upset over ____? That’s such a silly/stupid thing to be upset about.”
It’s very important for us as parents to affirm our children’s feelings, let them express them, and never tell them that they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way. They feel what they feel — and we can’t regulate that.
Your child’s emotions are real and should be acknowledged without trying to be changed. Parents may disagree with a child’s emotional reaction and try to say it’s silly to feel that way — but when you do this, your child is hearing that he or she is wrong to have those feelings; in turn, children doubt their ability to react in a healthy matter.
Let your children react — and if you believe they are being unreasonable, you can revisit their reaction a week or so after the fact and talk it through with them when they are calm.
Go back over the situation and ask them if they think their reaction was appropriate. Ask them questions about how they think they should respond in the future, rather than telling them how to feel or react.
Children will mature in their feelings and learn to regulate their reactions over time. Often, an overreaction is simply a sign of immaturity, which they will outgrow eventually.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the new book, “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing, May 2017), as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.