How to Meet the Emotional and Mental Needs of Your Child
There is a lot of advice here on Word from the Bird about meeting the emotional needs of your child through communication, daily practices, family dynamics, and characteristics.
But today I want to address specific needs that your child has emotionally, so you know if you're meeting them.
I have broken down what the five essential emotional needs are of your child.
Just like you, your children have needs — emotionally, physically, spiritually. And as you are well aware of, when those needs aren't met, things are off. We feel depressed, anxious, and sometimes aren't even sure why.
The same goes for meeting the needs of one another in a marital relationship. When those needs aren't being fulfilled, things get off-kilter, and communication is needed to help one another better understand your needs to have a healthy relationship and to change how things are currently operating.
With children, those needs being communicated aren't done in an adult-like manner.
If their needs aren't being met, they usually do one of a few things — act out emotionally, are disrespectful, draw inwards and shut down, isolate themselves, get anxious or depressed, or have trouble in school.
As a parent, you can usually see signs of your child's needs not being met, and if you stay alert and one step ahead, you can do something about it before it's too late.
Many times, parents tend to think that their child's misbehavior has something to do with their child. They believe their child is the one who needs to change. And while that might be true, you should also be aware of ways you need to change as a parent.
A parent/child relationship is a two-way street, just like your relationship is with your spouse.
Things need to be addressed when things are off, and most often, the fault is both parties involved.
If you look at your child's needs from that perspective, you can better understand what you, as the parent, also need to change. You also make mistakes and need to adjust so that the family dynamic is healthy and thriving.
The most beautiful thing a parent could do for a child is to admit when they are wrong and take responsibility for it.
Isn't that the beauty of family? That no matter what we have done, there will always be comradery and forgiveness. You will always be family! So do everything in your power to function with humility and kindness with your children. And if you make a mistake, that's okay! Apologize and show them you are also human.
This is one of the best ways you can teach them they don't always have to have it together. That failure is apart of life. It's what you do with failure that makes all the difference.
Here are five essential needs of your child that you won't want to ignore
1. They need to feel safe to share everything with you
Part of healthy communication within a family has a lot to do with you as the parents. Check out five steps to healthy communication with your kids.
When you want your children to listen to you and do what you say without complaining or a disrespectful response, then you need to first built trust with them.
That means you set the tone for communication. Are you speaking to them with respect? Are you making sure they are attentive and listening when you talk? Are you empathetic to whether or not they had a rough day? When you can create a healthy communicative environment with your kids, then they will feel safe to communicate with you about their feelings and emotions.
If they share something sensitive with you, reward that. Use the amazing moments of when they come to you with something as a gateway to their hearts.
That doesn't mean shoving questions down their throats, but more often than not, wait until they come to you.
2. They need your undivided attention
When they do open up and come to you, it's incredibly vital that you give them your undivided attention. The most crucial moment for us as a family is at bedtime. It's become a safe place for my son to share his heart. Sure, he might be using it as fuel to get a later bedtime, but I don't care. I would instead him feel safe to talk to me then follow a rigid schedule.
Look within on this one. Parents, smartphones in front of our faces have become a real problem.
Have no phone zones where no one is allowed to look at their phone. Be the example you want for your children.
3. They need you to model what healthy looks like
I get that all of these tips are a bit of a no brainer, but do you know why?
Why do you think your child needs you to be healthy? Well, it has to do with being a good example. But it also has to do with how you parent. You can't parent well when you aren't taking care of yourself. You can't show up for your kids if your marriage is falling apart.
We all have seasons where life feels hopeless. But thankfully, there are resources to help in those times. If that means putting your child in front of a movie so you can take a shower, that's okay.
Get counseling if you need it.
Take care of yourself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually -- this is quite possibly the best thing you can do for your children.
4. They need you to protect them from things they aren't emotionally mature enough for
Monitoring and filtering screen time isn't so popular these days. Parents are giving unlimited and unmonitored access of screen to their kids because mostly it makes their lives easier. I'm not saying that in a judgemental way. Sometimes, I need breaks and have given my kids WAY too much screen time. But overall, make sure you are monitoring your child's time with screens.
The things that children are being exposed to these days are WAY over their maturity level, which can lead to mental illnesses in children. Read more about that here.
Along with protecting them from screens, make sure you are equipping them for the world they will grow up in.
I came up with this quote, and it goes like this. Prepare your children for the world they WILL grow up in, not for the world you WANT them to grow up in.
That means understanding that they will be exposed to things they shouldn't. Have conversations where they feel safe to share with you what they saw or experienced without punishment. Have a relationship with them that is transparent and open. Equip them and help them understand the world they are being raised in. It's a harsh world, and wouldn't you rather them walk through it with a non-judgmental adult by their side?
5. They need you to accept them for who they are, not who you want them to be
So often, we get caught up in a very real identity crisis with our kids.
What does that mean? It means that we want them to behave or be a certain somebody so that we look good. It's finding your identity in your kids, instead of identifying WITH your kids.
When we do this, it sends a subliminal message to your children that who THEY are, is not enough, or acceptable.
This can be a subtle and unnoticed habit of ours.
Let's say you have friends over for dinner who's kids are more well behaved than your children. While they were at your house, your kids were acting so out of control that you felt embarrassed as a parent. Because when your kids misbehave, it sends a message to others that you're not a good parent, right?
When your friends leave, you let your kids have it. You tell them how much they embarrassed you, and you leave them with this sentence as you tuck them in bed. "Did you notice how polite so and so was? You should be more like that."
It leaves your kids feeling defeated and unable to please you.
That's not creating a suitable environment for your kids for a few reasons. It's making their performance about pleasing you, instead of pleasing God or even behaving because it's simply the right thing to do. AND it makes them feel like they have to be perfect.
A good way you could go about it is this.
"Hey, what you guys did tonight wasn't right. How should we better treat one another?"
Let them answer, and invite them in on finding a solution to what happened.
Tell them you love them and forgive them. Make them aware of how you have messed up also in the past, and you too aren't perfect.
Give them a consequence because of their inappropriate actions, but at the same time assure them of your love and acceptance.
As Christians, we also go the extra mile to teach our kids that, along with our forgiveness, God forgives them.
We tell them why it's important to repent and give your actions to God. Now that they have, it's behind them.
When we can show our children the beauty of God's perfect forgiveness and love even when we screw up, we will show them their need to please God with their lives, and not you as a parent.
It will help them understand that in spite of the mistakes they make in their life, they are still 100% loved and accepted by you as a parent, and most importantly, by God.