Fewer tantrums, more listening, getting along with others… every parent wants nearly the same things from their kids, things we think are rooted in their behavior. Want less tantrums? Put your foot down.
And while these tips and tricks are the actions we take to course-correct, they stem from a deeper reason why kids behave that way in the first place. For instance, why do they throw tantrums? More importantly, why is it that showing empathy almost always squashes the tantrums immediately?
As a first-time mom, I did all I could to give my son a good start in life, from researching how the brain works to setting healthy eating habits. But what I didn’t realize was that many of the dreams we have for our kids are rooted in meeting their emotional needs in the first place.
More important though, meeting the emotional needs of a child establishes a strong relationship. One that wouldn’t exist if this foundation wasn’t nurtured.
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So, what are the emotional needs of a child you should nurture, and how exactly do you do that? Below are 7 feelings that contribute to the well-being of your child, along with unique ways you can apply them in your life:
1. UnderstoodFor each tantrum your child throws, know that however petty the reason for the tantrum may be, all she wants is to feel understood.
Fighting over a toy or crying about not getting a snack can seem insignificant to us. After all, from our point of view, these don’t seem important enough to warrant the kind of meltdowns kids can have. But you won’t get through to your child, much less calm her down, unless you first show her that you understand.
This means showing empathy and actually thinking about what she might be feeling. That you would feel the same way if you were in her shoes, or if you also had to fight with someone over something you wanted.
Because no one wants to feel brushed aside or misunderstood. Kids want to feel like someone, especially their parents, can understand how they feel and know the depth of their emotions.
How often have we felt disappointed when our kids made mistakes, or held a grudge the rest of the day when they threw a tantrum in the morning?
Kids need to feel like they’re accepted for exactly who they are, without any conditions placed. That means you love your child just the same whether she woke up happy and pleasant or if she started the day grumpy and out of sorts.
No matter how different her personality or interests may be from yours, accept her exactly for who she is so she knows she will always belong.
It also means allowing her to make mistakes, without making her feel guilty or less-loved. So much so that hitting her brother means the behavior is wrong, but that she herself will always have a place in your family.
Avoid setting her up on a pedestal of perfection, and recognize not only the inevitability of mistakes, but their benefits as well. That these moments are when she will learn her best lessons.
And don’t hold grudges. Have you ever felt so angry at her that you let that mood fester for the rest of the day, even when she’s already over it? Forgive and move on, knowing that it’s not up to her to make you feel better or that you can “guilt” her into not behaving this way again.
Developing a strong connection with your child is crucial to meeting her emotional needs.
You might spend a few moments every day holding her in your arms, reminding her of the special things about her you love. Or it’s reminding her she’s loved by many people in her life, or doing random acts of kindness—gestures to brighten her day.
Other times it’s listening and being there for her when all she needs is your presence. Giving your attention—without any distraction—sends a powerful message that she is loved and adored.
Discover why it’s important to tell your kids you love them, even when it can be hard to.
4. In control
No child—no person—thrives when she feels under the control of someone else. Parenting gets tricky because we assume that, as the adult, we have full control over our kids, even saying we’re doing it for their own good.
But not only does that backfire, it’s inherently wrong. Sure, you can threaten and bribe your child to do things, but these fear- and reward-based tactics are short-lived and eventually don’t work. Instead, the only person you can control is yourself.
This allows you to realize that she needs to feel in control of herself, and that, at the end of the day, she makes the final decisions over her life.
How can you help nurture a healthy sense of control? First, stop hovering over her every move, and instead provide the autonomy she needs that will serve her better. Offer parent-approved choices she can pick from, so that she can reclaim power she may feel she has lost for being a child.
And allow her to solve her own problems instead of feeling compelled to “save” her from every disappointment or frustration. These natural consequences are opportunities to learn how to cope with life’s inevitable dips.
There’s a reason I don’t share the catastrophes we often see on the news with my kids. If I as an adult am overwhelmed by what I see, I can’t imagine how kids can face them as well.
But feeling safe goes beyond knowing what’s going on in the news. Safety can mean having a consistent routine at home that allows your child to know what to expect without feeling anxious.
Feeling safe can mean setting boundaries that, despite her protests, she actually wants and needs to know her limits. You can also nurture a feeling of safety by not being worried or anxious yourself. She’ll model your behavior, and the more she sees you worry, the less certain she feels.
Finally, encourage her to combat negative news with finding solutions. My eldest has noticed that, for all the good intentions eco-friendly programs may have, they can leave him overwhelmed.
To feel empowered—not afraid—we came up with things we can do, so that these doom-and-gloom forecasts aren’t as hopeless as they seem.
Beyond feeling accepted and loved, kids need to feel supported, in their interests, hobbies, attempts, and failures.
Maybe this means showing up for your child’s swim lessons—or even encouraging him in the first place when he showed an interest in swimming. Or it’s being fascinated with his world, even if you’ve had enough of dinosaurs or superheroes or pop music for your taste.
Or maybe it means encouraging him to keep going, and praising him for his effort and grit.
And throughout it all, offer your support by placing no judgment on who he is or where his interests lie. That way, he won’t feel compelled to seek your approval each time he makes a painting, but paints for the sheer joy it gives him inside.
The essence of who we are deep within goes beyond age, temperament, even personality—who we are as a person is so much more than that. To meet the emotional needs of a child, we need to value the person that they are.
This starts with being respectful to your child. Think about your latest interactions with her—is that how you would behave with others? We respect others—whether our spouses, family and friends, even strangers—but don’t always extend the same respect to our kids.
Where we might be more mindful of what we say to strangers, we feel at liberty to unleash harsh words or poor behavior to our kids. Being valued means showing your child you respect her, even when you need to correct her behavior or when you’re having a bad parenting day yourself.
You can also spend a few moments as a family, particularly at dinnertime, going around and asking each child for his opinion or thoughts. This shows that you value what she has to say, and that she has the safe space to say it.
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All parents want the best for their kids, but we overlook one of the simplest ways to nurture their well-being: meeting their emotional needs.
It starts with accepting your child for who she is, and making sure she feels loved no matter what. You can also give her a sense of control instead of deciding everything for her. Create a feeling of safety, all while supporting her interests and goals.
Make sure she feels understood, showing empathy for how she feels, no matter how petty it may seem. And finally, value the person that she is, reminding her that she is a blessing to have in your life and in this world.
Any mom, first-time or veteran, doesn’t always think about the emotional needs of a child. But it’s exactly these factors that contribute to the success we want for them for a happy, confident life.