How can I help my child’s emotional development?
These days, many parents are concerned that children seem to be emotionally immature. They want instant gratification, they demand entertainment rather than managing ‘own time’, they find it difficult to sustain attention, they are easily frustrated and act out their emotions rather than controlling them. Can you help change this?
Remember that your child was born with the desire to be the best person possible, to grow up and do what she is best fitted to do, to be healthy and happy. For this to happen, she needs to develop physically, mentally but also emotionally. Your job is to give her the opportunity to meet her desires.
Parents play an important role here. In the first place, you should be aware of the different factors that can affect her during the growing years. You also need to realise that she will meet obstacles along the way – either stemming from herself or from her environment. For example, she may show a reluctance to try new things which could be the result of criticism or being compared with others. You’ll need to know how to act to help minimize negative things and maximize the positive.
Let’s start with the most basic factors that a child needs in order to develop to full potential.
Obviously children need shelter, food and clothing in order to thrive. After these, health is an important factor. Being healthy helps a child face problems more vigorously while ill-health can have negative effects. During illness, children become less active and muscles may lose some tone leading to fatigue and even arrested development. Illness makes children irritable and anxious and they may show this with temper tantrums. Being frequently ill may be the starting point for problems such as picky eating and behavioural difficulties. Chronic diseases (epilepsy, diabetes) may cause emotional instability by having to be heavily dependent on family members. More minor conditions such as eczema or allergies cause physical discomfort, affecting emotional control, concentration and the lack of will to persevere with something or complete a task.
Malnutrition and lack of a balanced diet can also lead to low energy levels which in turn will limit curiosity, a will to explore and be independent.
Side-effects of these conditions may include shyness, depression and anti-social behaviour which will impact on her emotional development.
A happy childhood isn’t necessary a guarantee of success in later life but it certainly provides a good foundation for success. Happy children are normally healthy and energetic. Happiness in itself is a strong motivation to do things and it seems to help children face obstacles with calmness and a lack of fear. It is also a habit, so happy children very often grow up to be happy, optimistic adults. Being happy and projecting cheerfulness also helps social relationships, which is a huge boon as children need to interact with others for good social-emotional development.
Unhappiness, on the other hand, drains a child’s strength and energy and can also affect general health. It stifles motivation, leads to withdrawal and self-occupation which in turn prevents children from learning from experience. Temper tantrums and difficult behaviors are more common in unhappy children. Generally, happy parents tend to foster happiness in their children so your attitude plays a role as well.
Your feelings about being a parent and the role you adopt as a parent are important. Here are some ways to ensure your attitude is positive:
- Build confidence and self-acceptance in your child by being confident and accepting of her. Don’t have unrealistic expectations of her and hold idealized wishes for a ‘dream’ child.
- Set realistic goals to try to avoid failure and keep self-esteem high. This means helping your child know her own strengths and weaknesses – without harping too much on the weaknesses – so that she develops self-understanding. It is important that she knows about possible limitations.
- Help her develop her individuality by providing opportunities for learning and experiencing different things. Watch that you don’t overdo this as children need time out from activities to play and interact with their families. Also watch your timing. Don’t expect her to enjoy, master or learn an activity if she is not developmentally ready for it.
- Often a child reaches a temporary plateau in her development. Don’t be misled into believing that she has reached her limit. It may be that with a little encouragement from you, she could advance further.
- Teach your child to relate to and be aware of others. She needs to learn to make friends. Model empathy for others as well so that she can learn compassion too. Happy, healthy children show empathy quite early on in their lives. And if unsocial behaviours are noted, don’t ignore them. Try to correct these before they become habits and possible lead her to being excluded from her peer group.
- Be careful not to stereotype male and female roles. These are found to stunt personal development – especially if they include beliefs about superior male and inferior female roles. Each child, regardless of gender, has to be encouraged to reach his or her own potential, without guilt or apology.
There are three main components of personality: emotionality, which is a tendency to become upset or distressed easily; levels of activity, which children show in terms of amount of movement, speed of talking or amount of energy put into any activities and restlessness; and sociability, the searching out for social contact and preference to be with others and sharing activities.
Your child will show a mix of these three components in varying amounts. It will be possible to note that your child has a bias in one or more direction, being more emotional, more active or more sociable. Emotional babies cry a lot and are hard to sooth; active babies don’t sleep very much and are restless; sociable babies respond to cuddles and being easily quietened.
Your job is to accept any of these traits shown in excess but also to encourage your child to move in the direction of the other two. Emotional children need reassurance, support, guidance and help in dealing with strong emotions so that they can feel secure and less emotional. A child who is always on the move can be helped to slow down by you showing lots of attention and gentle restraint. Playing games with an active child can encourage her to concentrate and increase attention span.
So are you doing your best? Here’s a list of things that characterize a good parent
A good parent
- Supports the child at all times but does not indulge or allow over-dependency
- Can be depended on by the child; you need to be consistent and predictable
- Is reasonably permissive and giving within firm boundaries; use your own sense of values and don’t simply follow the herd if you disagree with society’s current practices
- Is fair in discipline; be sure the child knows the boundaries and consequences for challenging them
- Respects the child’s individuality
- Inspires love not fear
- Sets a good example and models expected behaviours
- Is companionable and does things with the child; sets time aside for this
- Is good natured most of the time;
- Shows the child affection and expresses affection as well; let the child know what her most loveable qualities are
- Is sympathetic when the child is hurt or in trouble and gives plenty of time to listen and help
- Encourages the child to bring friends home
- Is interested in and focused on making a happy home
- Grants independence appropriate for the child’s age
- Does not expect unreasonable achievements
 Dr Miriam Stoppard