But parenting is probably the most complex role any of us will ever have in our lives, and few of us enter parenthood fully equipped to meet all our children’s needs.
Especially when it comes to their emotional ones.
In truth, the way a child is treated emotionally by his parents determines how he’ll treat himself as an adult. For example, a child who does not receive enough realistic, heartfelt acknowledgement from his parents for his accomplishments may grow up with low self-esteem and little confidence in his own abilities.
Jonice Webb has a PhD in clinical psychology, and is author of the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. She has been interviewed on NPR and over thirty radio shows across the United States and Canada about the topic of her book, and has been quoted as a psychologist expert in the Chicago Tribune. She currently has a private psychotherapy practice in the Boston area, where she specializes in the treatment of couples and families.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
You probably love your child “all the way to the moon and back,” as the classic children’s book says. But love simply isn’t enough. Because if you don’t attend enough to your child’s emotions, your child will feel ignored on some level, no matter how much attention you pay to him in other ways.
Emotions are literally a part of your child’s physiology. They are the most deeply personal, biological part of who he is. So noticing and responding to your child’s feelings is the deepest, most personal way for you to say, “I love you.”
Why It’s Hard
As a parent it is not easy to know when and how to respond emotionally to your child. And it’s one hundred times harder when you grew up in a household that under-responded to your emotions (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN).
As a psychologist who has worked with thousands of parents, I have seen firsthand that the best time to learn emotion skills is during your childhood. When your parents don’t have these skills, they can’t teach them to you. Then what do you do when it’s your turn to teach your kids?
Add to that challenge the fact that emotion hides behind behavior. It’s easier to get angry with a child who is sulking than to look for the underlying emotion that’s causing the behavior.
6 Ways to Raise an Emotionally Resilient Child
- Pay attention to who your child really is. Observe your child’s true nature–and reflect it back to her. What does your child like, dislike, get angry about, feel afraid of, or struggle with? Feed these observations back to your child in a nonjudgmental way so that your child can see herself through your eyes, and so that she can feel how well you know her.
- Feel an emotional connection to your child. Strive to feel what your child is feeling, whether you agree with it or not. Put the feelings into words for him and teach him how to use his own words to express it.
- Respond competently to your child’s emotional need. Don’t judge your child’s feeling as right or wrong. Look beyond the feeling, to the source that’s triggering it. Help your child name and manage her emotion. Give her simple, age-appropriate rules to live by.
- Teach self-forgiveness by modeling compassion. When your child makes a poor choice or mistake, help him understand what part of the mistake is his, what part is someone else’s, and what part is the circumstance. That helps him figure out how to correct his mistake without feeling blame from you or automatically blaming himself.
- Show your child that you like as well as love her. It’s vital that your child not only knows but feels that you like and love her. Warm, caring hugs, laughter, and truly enjoying your child’s personality all go a long way toward conveying that feeling to your child. Knowing that she’s loved is not the same as feeling loved.
- Don’t miss small opportunities to give attention. Childhood is composed of many small emotional moments, and the more of these that you share, the better off your child will be when he or she grows up.
Wondering if you received enough emotional attention and true empathy as a child to give your children what they need? Since CEN is subtle and invisible, it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.