Raising Emotionally Healthy Children With Intentionality
Parenting is not something we have acquired by force, but sometimes it feels that way. It feels like some nonexistent boss has given you a vague list of tasks that you are neither equipped nor trained.
It leaves you feeling tired, anxious, and helpless.
But here's a little truth for you.
You are NOT helpless. And even though it takes a bit of research, intentionality, effort, and a lot of prayer to raise healthy children, you are capable, because God has equipped you.
And those days when you feel utterly defeated and helpless, remember that your task at hand might FEEL overwhelming, but YOU are the perfect person for the job.
When I scroll through Pinterest, I see a myriad of advice on parenting. How to raise eco-friendly children. What to do when your child misbehaves. Five reasons you shouldn't say no to your children.
There is a plethora of direction from outside sources. But what's right? How do you know that what you implement into your parenting is going to equate to x + y = emotionally healthy kids?
Well, you don't. And that's why it's important to remember — your children are their own person with their own choices. You are the primary influence, but that doesn't mean that if you screw up in some way, your children are screwed up for life.
Have grace for yourself, but at the same time, do your best to understand the influence you have on your child.
Understand the responsibility that God has given you as your child's parents.
Recognize that how you view your children, will ultimately affect how they see themselves, and how they think God views them.
When we look at parenting like this — God entrusting you with a beautiful responsibility to give your child what they need, emotionally, spiritually, and physically — then it won't seem like a burden, but a blessing.
You will get overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, and even want to give up some days. But that's a completely normal side effect of parenting.
Don't mistake your tiredness for helplessness.
You might have to discipline your child for the same issue for years on end. They are not adults, and they cannot see a task through the same way adults do.
But that's why you are there to guide and direct them, not chastise them for being imperfect human beings.
So what are some practical ways you can do your best to raise emotionally healthy kids?
Well, I have some ideas. And as these are tips given based upon my faith, as well as my own opinion, I am fallible. That means that you should always do your best to KNOW your kids and watch out for signs of them reaching out emotionally to you.
For example, after my second son was born, my then 7yo was reaching out emotionally by constantly disobeying. The smallest things would set him off, and anger was often his emotion of choice.
It occurred to me that he was probably experiencing feelings of jealousy of his new little brother who took my attention from him. He wasn't sure how to navigate his emotions, so it translated to anger and disobedience.
When I was able to identify the source of his anger, we had a great conversation about jealousy, what it is, and how he can deal with it healthily.
It wasn't ONE conversation that fixed everything, but rather multiple conversations we have to have, sometimes weekly. Our son was dealing with a new negative emotion, and now that he knows what to do with it after guiding him through it, it's his choice to do what's right.
That's what I mean by watching for signs. Usually, if a child is angry about something, there is an underlying issue — sometimes not. But that's why we should be intentional with our children, ask questions that might be uncomfortable for everyone, and walk them through the process.
Just like when you have "the sex talk." It shouldn't be ONE talk. It should be MANY talks because your children will have MANY questions.
With children, you can't address something once and hope for it to be forever resolved.
They need constant reminders, information, grace, and discipline.
And just because something doesn't seem to be working, or your child doesn't seem to be responding the way you'd hope, doesn't mean that God isn't working in their hearts.
Keep seeing things through, and have PATIENCE.
As our world moves towards immediate results and instant gratification for EVERYTHING, we mustn't expect the same outcome from parenting.
Here are some practical tips for raising emotionally healthy children. I used scripture to align my thoughts to truth. It's incredible what excellent advice we get from God's diary.
Have a firm foundation
14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches, and pleasures, and they do not mature.
15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
This may seem obvious to most of you, but the relationship you have with your spouse carves the path of your child's emotional well-being. When a child feels safe in his home environment, everything will flow from that.
So what creates a healthy marriage? A healthy YOU. The root health of your family rides on your shoulders as an individual. Are you healthy? Are you modeling for your child a reflection of spiritual, emotional, and physical health?
Are you taking care of yourself so that your child knows how to honor their bodies? Are you setting boundaries for yourself as to not push yourself to the edge of a breakdown to teach your child moderation?
Are you treating others as you would treat yourself, so your child learns humility and kindness?
Are you apologizing when you wrong them or your spouse to teach them to respect others, and that they don't have to always be perfect?
YOU are the primary influence of your child, and it starts with your actions. Your child will watch you with wide-open minds and eyes, soaking up every bit of information they can.
How do you deal with failure? How do you deal with anger? How do you view money? Do you abuse alcohol in front of them? Are you a person who continually tries to control everything around you, and when it doesn't go your way, you fall apart? Teach them your faith and values by modeling it.
Don't be their hero, be their shepherd
1 Peter 5:2-3
2 Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
As a parent, you are automatically a hero in your child's eyes. It's funny, but no matter how much you screw up as a parent, your kid will always unconditionally love you and want to please you. The same goes for how you view them.
This incredible unity cannot be broken, but it can be tainted. Let me explain.
As adults, we go through our day, offering tremendous amounts of unconscious trust to perfect strangers.
We trust the drivers in the parking lot to not run us over as we buckle our children in the car. We trust the people who build bridges to do it well, so they don't collapse beneath us. We trust the cook at the restaurant to cook our chicken through so we aren't sitting on the toilet for the entire day.
The same goes for our children trusting us. At first, they unconsciously and unwittingly trust us to protect them from hurting themselves, not leave out dangerous chemicals they could get into, catch them when they fall off the couch (most times. ha.), AND emotionally and spiritually meet their needs.
At around the age of six or seven, a child begins to notice that you aren't always trustworthy — that you fail them and break your promises. Children will then start to test emotional boundaries to see if you mean business. And if in this time we aren't careful, a gap can begin to develop mistrust and secrecy between parent and child.
Your child doesn't need you to save them; they need you to guide them. They don't need a perfect person to swoop in and protect them from everything uncomfortable.
They need a person to show them how to address their failures, how to forgive, how to love well, how to accept difficult circumstances, and how to follow God with their lives. This is being a trustworthy parent. To continuously and endlessly SHOW UP for our kids, no matter what they do.
Expect them to be exposed to things they shouldn’t be—teach them what to do with it
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
There is only so much we can protect our kids from, and protect them we should. But after you've set boundaries, rules, and monitor what they see, what if they see things, or hear things they shouldn't? Then what?
Get this in your head now. They WILL be exposed to things they shouldn't be, and the age at which it happens is getting younger and younger.
So, because we shouldn't place them in a bubble that keeps them from everything harmful, we have to be one step ahead of them.
How do we do that? Well, we equip ourselves. If they are going to a public OR private school, educate yourself on what they will be exposed to at what age, and discuss that topic with them before their peers do.
Oh, and get used to getting uncomfortable. Axis.org is an incredible resource for gaining awareness of what kids are now experiencing and how to address it. They have an upcoming event called Teens & Technology that my husband and I are apart of. It’s worth the investment!
We need to teach our children what to do with seeing or hearing something they shouldn't. Have open and honest conversations about what your boy should do when he sees pornography for the first time.
Teach him how to have self-control in his mind, thoughts, and actions, but also help him understand that he is not despicable or unloved for having those thoughts.
Teach him the disrespect, dysfunction, and harm that belongs to the pornography industry. Teach him that just because a show is popular, doesn't mean he should watch it, and why he shouldn't watch it.
Teach your girls why she shouldn't dress inappropriately — that she can respect her body by protecting it, and setting boundaries for herself. Teach her what to do when someone persecutes her for her faith or bullies her for her looks.
This hope is found in teaching your children not to worry about what the world thinks, but only what God thinks. I will note here, though, that just because you don't get instant results, or your kids aren't responding to your direction doesn't mean that God isn't doing something in their hearts.
Do your part, but it's vital to leave it to God and not try and take control of your kids.
The trust you have built with your children throughout their childhood begins to get shaken at around the age of six or seven. This is the most crucial time to make sure you are doing everything you can to meet your child's emotional needs. Along with allowing them to feel their feelings, and be transparent with you as a parent without judgment or expectation of perfection, you need to go deeper and ask the hard questions.
You need to be one step ahead of what they will be exposed to, and teach them what to do with it.