How to raise emotionally healthy children

At the heart of the television series Big Little Lies are its children. Though the plot revolves around the lives of three women, the show is also about the lives of their children and how they navigate through ups and downs of life. There is a lot on the platter for children who are just starting school—one is on a mission to find out more about his dad, the other is beaten up by her peer on the first day of school. And then, there are the twins whose father physical abuses their mother.

The premise of the series raises some interesting thoughts about parenting. Parenting goes beyond the convention of providing food, clothing and shelter. It includes the bigger responsibility of raising children to be individuals who are physically fit, intellectually alert and emotionally healthy. While most of us, as parents, give importance to our children’s physical and mental wellbeing, seldom do we focus on their emotional wellbeing. In this feature, Soulveda explores the need to raise emotionally healthy children.

Psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman in his foreword to psychological researcher John Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child highlights the need for emotionally healthy children. He writes: “Over the last few decades the number of homicides among teenagers has quadrupled, the number of suicide has tripled, forcible rapes doubled.  (…) a nationwide random sample of more than two thousand American children, rated by their parents and teachers—first in the mid-1970s and then in the late 1980s—found a long-term trend for children, on average, to be dropping in basic emotional and social skills.”

Goleman points out that a drop in emotional and social skillsets can be attributed to various factors, one being changing economic realities. The new age economic reforms have forced parents to work to support their families, giving them very less time to spend with children. In addition, nuclear families have become the norm. Various studies and evidences suggest that children generally learn these skills from parents, relatives, neighbours and other children. And so, when we live away from our families, we leave our children with little or no scope to interact with our family or friends. Left alone most of the time, children then resort to spending time glued in front of the TV or computer.

The more we listen to our children’s emotions without judging them, the more we’d build a bond of trust with them.

In cases where children have failed to develop these essential skills, there have been dire consequences. For instance, studies suggest that an inability to handle anxiety and depression in childhood increases the likelihood for such children to abuse drugs or alcohol; girls who fail to distinguish the feelings of anxiety and hunger in childhood are at a risk of developing eating disorders. And so, having understood these consequences, it becomes crucial for us parents to raise children who are emotionally healthy.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules to achieve this objective. However, there are a few guidelines which could come in handy. The basic premise for us, as parents, would be to understand that children are emotional beings. Obvious, as it may sound, sadly, many of us tend to overlook this fact. The more we invest time to help children become aware of their emotions, the better they would become at understanding their own feelings. Eventually, this will also help them process what they are feeling and put them in words.

When we take the time to listen to our children’s feelings without being dismissive or critical, they feel validated. They understand that they are not being judged for how they feel, that their emotions are genuine, and it is totally okay to feel a certain way. This in turn helps build our children’s self-esteem. They begin to respect themselves and also learn to empathise with others as well. On the other hand, when we dismiss our children’s feelings, it tends to have an adverse impact on the child. Such children might grow up to become an emotionally-stunted individual.

What’s more, the more we listen to our children’s emotions without judging them, the more we’d build a bond of trust with them. This would in turn make it easy for the little ones to confide in us and thereby seek help to cope with their emotions. Having said this, coping doesn’t come natural to children. They mainly learn these skills from parents and by observation. This puts onus on us to not only enjoy the good times with our children but also prepare them for the not-so good times. Every defeat and a win are opportunities to teach children that they can handle any situation and thereby empower them.

As parents, when we teach children the importance of emotions, and ways to deal with them, we are preparing them for a future where things may not always be pleasant and favourable. It’s a fact that life is not a bed of roses. A child who knows how to cope with uncertainties will certainly grow up to be a balanced individual, ready to take on adversities later in life. Such children become grounded and empathetic, understanding the situation at hand and doing what’s best for them.


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