4 Cornerstones for Building Emotionally Healthy Kids

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By: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD (The Art of Relationships)

WebMD Blogs

While there is no definitive handbook on raising emotionally healthy, resilient children, there is also no shortage of advice on parenting. However, there are four basic approaches to parenting that nurture emotionally healthy children.

Accept Your Child Fully

For a child to feel truly loved, he has to feel that all of him is accepted. This means that parents must learn as much as they can about what their children think, feel, want, and generally experience. Parents can quibble with their children’s thoughts, be confused by their feelings, and see their impulses as problematic; but it’s still important for parents to convey that they fully accept their children.

Sometimes this can be very difficult to do. For instance, it’s common for people to teach their children that anger is something to be avoided at all costs. The unfortunate lesson that children often learn is that they should be ashamed of, and hide, their anger. If, instead, children (and adults) learn to fully accept their anger as a human emotion, they can feel accepting of themselves while learning to respond to their anger healthy ways.

Upgrade Your Child’s Communication Skills

Parents help their children by ‘scaffolding’ their children’s ability to express themselves. For infants, this simply means talking to them. In young children, parents label things until their children can speak for themselves — a parent might say, for instance, “This is a ball.” Parents also help children label their feelings; “I can see that you are sad about losing your doll.” Over the years, parents can help children to think more deeply and express themselves more clearly –  often staying just a step ahead of a child’s present ability.

Engage and Struggle with Your Child

Children need their parents to engage with them, giving them a sense that they really matter. Of course, it feels good to both parent and child when they enjoy each others company. But engagement is equally important when there is conflict.

Parents must set limits and allow their child to protest. By asserting what’s important to them in the face of disapproval, children can establish their identity as separate while also remaining connected. A child will benefit from this throughout his life because it’s an ability that’s essential to any close, mature relationship.

Initiate Repairs after Tension or Conflict

Parents need to try to repair their relationship with their child when it is strained by tension or conflict. This instills children with the expectation that disruptions in relationships can be fixed. Without it, people are constantly fearful of having any disagreement with people who matter to them.

It’s important to note that a child’s ability to follow up on this expectation by actually working to fix a relationship rests on the first cornerstone, fully accepting himself or herself. They must be able to respect their own experiences while doing the same for others – even when those experiences differ. With this perspective, they are free to work with other people; not being compelled to dominate others, or to simply lose themselves in what others want.

Together, the four cornerstones explained above provide children with the essentials of being an emotionally healthy person. Children learn to communicate clearly and feel comfortable with themselves. They also benefit from the extremely valuable lesson that they can be themselves with people close to them and not have to worry so much about being rejected, even when tension or conflict arises. Of course, life does not always go smoothly, and relationships sometimes do end. But, children raised with these four cornerstones have the best chance for growing up to be happy, emotionally resilient adults.

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