Nobody enters parenthood wondering about the ways they will cause psychological damage to their children. Most people go into parenthood wanting the very best for their children and hoping that they do better than their own parents did.
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But despite this, a lot of us come out of childhood scathed in one way or more, even if all our basic needs were met.
Part of this comes down to lack of preparation. You spend at least 12 years, at a minimum, in the education system but never learn a thing about how to navigate your emotional world.
And, despite the link between physical health and mental health, all of the attention and focus is given to physical health alone, both in school and often in the media and popular culture.
On top of all that, the world itself is often emotionally unhealthy, with violence, pain and distress all around, making it seem even harder to teach your children about being emotionally healthy when they’re in the thick of it.
Despite these challenges, teaching your children how to be healthy emotionally is a definite necessity. When a person is emotionally healthy, they do not feel the need to oppress others or hate people because of their differences.
They don’t think they are above other people, are able to express themselves in a positive way, and are generally happy people in life. Try these four tips to help your children becomes the productive, healthy and happy adults you want them to be.
1. Don’t deny your feelings
Children tend to be perceptive and open. They will pick up things that adults often appear to miss, and the environment you’re creating for them will either hinder or nurture that experience. What your child needs is someone to help them identify and articulate their experiences, as emotions and feelings do have a purpose.
It’s feelings and emotions that communicate necessary information for the navigation of life, but it’s all too easy to try to ignore them unless they are joyful and happy.
When you are not truthful about your own emotions or feelings, your children can’t learn to be truthful about their own.
Feelings themselves are not the problem—what you do with them can be. It’s easy to think that you have to protect your children from their own feelings and emotions.
For example, if you are feeling sad and your child asks if you are sad, you may tell them that you’re not. You want to shield your child from unpleasant things, and that’s understandable, but it’s not doing them any favors in the long run. In reality, this confuses your child, as they knew what being sad felt and looked like and are now doubtful.
Naturally, your child trusts you to know better. Unfortunately, they are also learning an unspoken message, one that says painful feelings aren’t talked about and that some feelings shouldn’t be expressed.
Acknowledging when your children are right will help nurture their emotional intelligence and intuitiveness. This will really help contribute to their mental health, just like exercise contributes to physical health.
Of course, you don’t want to dump your feelings on your kids, which is easy to do with strong emotions such as anger. Just be more honest about your feelings. When your children feel reassured that you can handle your own feelings, they will let go of responsibility they carry for how you feel.
Being honest with your feelings also lets your child know that they can also have and tolerate more difficult feelings.
2. Stop passing judgment on feelings
Have you ever been told that you shouldn’t feel a certain way? Maybe you’ve even told yourself that. But in reality, we don’t actually choose our feelings. There are plenty of times we’ve all wished not to feel a certain way, but it’s just not that simple.
The right way to handle this is by accepting how you feel, whether it seems horrible or not, so you can learn from and change those feelings. It’s impossible to transform a feeling if you’re not acknowledging you’re having it to begin with.
Once you learn to stop judging your own feelings, you can stop passing judgement on your children’s feelings, too.
This lets them bring their feelings into the light, free from shame, and that’s what needs to happen so they can learn from and change their feelings, too.
What they are not able to express will end up being acted out instead, and that is often not healthy.
When your child is expressing feelings that aren’t “nice,” refrain from telling them that. Allow them to express their feelings, and ask them why they feel that way so you can offer them perspective and guidance.
When you tell them a feeling is not nice, they are still going to have it anyway, so it’s better to help them get to the root of the cause and make some positive changes.
3. Don’t tell your kids what they should think
You need to ask questions if you want to know what is happening in your child’s head. Be curious—find out about their views on what is going on in the world, in school and in your home.
When you don’t force your views onto your children and just listen to them with unconditional acceptance instead, they will start accepting themselves and see their views as having value.
When you know how your child is thinking, you’ll be better prepared to give good guidance and head off crises, too.
It’s important to keep in mind that your children aren’t you or an extension of you. They are their own person, with their own ideas, feelings and thoughts. Be curious when it comes to who your kids are.
Discover their strengths and nurture them. Know their weaknesses and help work with them on those areas. Just remember that when it comes to weakness, to be patient; after all, you have your own, too.
4. Look at how you’re handling your own feelings
It’s pretty difficult to help your children manage their feelings if you’ve got little understanding of your own or haven’t resolved your emotional issues. Granted, no one has all their feelings completely resolved at any given point in time, since life is a journey.
But if you’re afraid of your emotions and feelings, you will avoid those of your children, too. The better you are at navigating your own emotional world, the better you will be at helping your children manage theirs.
Keep in mind that this isn’t about being perfect. It’s simply about being able to go there.
You may need to look back on your childhood to get an understanding of how you did or didn’t learn to deal with emotions and feelings. Look at what was acceptable and what wasn’t, and how people in your family processed feelings.