All parents live in fear. Some of them true some of them baseless. You may call it fear or anxiety or care….the top thing on each parent’s mind is how the future will unfold for their kids. We do anything in our capacity to lay a strong foundation for our kids.
Most blogs I have seen related to parenting are about healthy kid, good eating habits, taking care of illness and diseases in kids and tasty recipes that kids will guzzle down in a minute.
These are of course important aspects of raising your toddler- his physical health.
However, I personally feel that emotional health is the best and most important part of parenting. Unfortunately not many parents come out of their comfort zone to learn about that. Moms will do anything and almost go mad coming up with time to cook a million things to make sure their kids are reaching the height and weight milestones prescribed by their kids’ doctor. But how many of us have asked our PD (pediatric) about emotional health?
We make sure our kids are in some brain gym, have watched all Baby Einstein CDs and are in the best school of our locality to ensure they excel in the future. But how many of us focus on pursuing happiness?
Just like a crying kid doesn’t really mean he is depressed, a laughing kid doesn’t usually mean he is happy. Emotional health is wider and far reaching than a smile. It is a state of mind that encompasses the ability to deal with any situation with a healthy and positive approach.
Like I mentioned before we all have been blessed with tons of resources in forms of books and online websites about raising a kid with a healthy body or a sharp mind. And thank God for that!
However, let’s take out some time to talk about how to raise a kid with a healthy heart too!
Though heart is usually a generic terms to embody all emotions, scientifically it can’t be further from the truth. Emotions, like almost all things, arise in the mind. Just in a different compartment than IQ or speech or memory. But it’s very much a mind function.
Unfortunately it is the most complex of mind’s function. Almost impossible to master. We all are evidence of how difficult it is to attain emotional health. Even now as adults we don’t have the best of emotional health!
Over the years of dealing with a toddler and so many adults, I have realized the founding milestones of emotional health are very basic and similar for all ages:
- CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE AND UNDERSTANDING TOWARDS EMOTIONS:
Most of us view emotions as something outside of us. Hence, outside our control and impossible to master.
Try to train yourself to accept and embrace emotions as part of your body. As much as your kidney and liver and intestines are an integral part of you so are your emotions.
Don’t treat them as alien. Accept and embrace them as one with you.
- TRAIN YOUR KID TO ACCEPT POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EMOTIONS EQUALLY WELL:
There is a beautiful ad running in India about how boys are taught all their lives not to cry. BOYS DON’T CRY. They show how this boy who was taught never to cry and even ridiculed saying, “Are you a girl? Why are you crying?” suppressed his need to cry so much that he ends up taking out his frustrations on his wife later on in life. He became a wife batterer.
Though this ad was run to address issues of domestic violence in India, it carries a parallel equally important message. Suppressing any kind of emotion (positive or negative) will not end well.
Why do we tell a kid not to cry? Crying is not bad at all. Infact looking at the incidence of heart attack among men Vs women we all would be happy to cry all our lives and avoid that heart attack!
In fact zoom back a few years to the time your kid was a newborn. His crying was the signal you used as a way to know he was hungry or wet. Even you took him seriously only when he cried and now you are telling him to give up his most natural reaction!!!
Instead of telling your kid that crying is bad, try to educate him about his feelings. Walk him through why he is feeling that way instead of suppressing his outburst.
To lead with real life example, let me outline a conversation I usually have with my DD:
Me: What happened? Why are you crying?
DD: (continues to howl to get more mileage)
Me: Its perfectly OK to cry. So once you done crying why don’t you tell me what made you so upset enough to cry.
DD: (after 5 mins of continuous howling)You told me to sleep. I don’t want to do that.
Instead of labeling a natural reponse as crying with being bad or naughty or wrong; you help her out understand why she is feeling that particular way.
- CELEBRATE NEGATIVE/SAD EVENTS:
My sister-in-law once told me a story about her friends who had just found out that their younger kid had Type II Diabetes. For parents of a 5 year old it can be devastating news. But the best part of the story is yet to come. She told me how they have embraced his slightly different lifestyle and challenges as just being another kind of way of life. They infact celebrate the day they found out about his diabetes as Diabetes day with a party and sugarless dates and nuts rolls as the cake.
Events are never negative. It’s the way we deal with them that ends them being labeled so.
Life is going to be tough for your kid, let’s face it. And you are not going to be around all the time. If she knows to make lemonade when life throws her lemon, she will be just fine!
- TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR KID IS FEELING OFTEN:
Contrary to our general belief kids are quite adept at talking about their feelings. Since they have not been corrupted with beliefs and social conditioning just yet, they can express what they are feeling much clearly.
Ask your child often in a day how she is feeling. She is most likely bound to tell you the truth. If she is happy she will say I am feeling happy mom! If she is playing with something she might tell you I am feeling irritated that I am not able to build these blocks.
Kids have not been conditioned yet with which emotions to show and which ones to hide.I suggest you don’t condition her just yet either!
- SILENCE IS GOLDEN:
Words and speech come so much in the way of emotions I feel. Emotions are felt. Its both difficult to express them sometimes as they are to understand.
And add to it a toddler who is just building her vocabulary and experiencing such different stimuli and events each day that most of the time she won’t herself know what all she is feeling and which words to use to express them.
I have a small game I play with my daughter once in a while. The “NO-TALK” game. We both are not allowed to talk for 10 minutes and we are supposed to either hand gesture or just express what we want. But no words at all. Through this exercise you shall learn to read the tiniest of the lines on her face and any change in body language that you might miss out if you expect everything to be in spoken words.
It’s not only a great bonding game to play but it also gives you 10 mins of golden moments of a silent baby! Imagine that!
- SET AN EXAMPLE:
While language and other skill sets are taught to your kid, emotional health is understood by your baby very early in life. The way he sees you react to events, the way he sees you and your partner talk as a couple, the way he sees you treat strangers are all imbibed in her.
It’s no wonder that usually a panicky mom has a panicky baby, a hyper mom has a hyper baby and a calm mom has a calm baby.
So it’s best to lead by example when it comes to the emotional health area. Coz that’s one area where she will not need spoken words. She will see you and imbibe you even when you think she is not watching!
- INSTEAD OF TELLING HER NO, GIVE HER AN ALTERNATIVE:
All parents will vouch for the fact that telling a kid “no” for something just ends up in doing that thing with even more fervor. Don’t cry or don’t get angry cant be understood by a baby who is already sad enough to cry or frustrated enough to be angry.
There are small ways you can channelize her emotions well.
For eg, when my daughter gets angry she starts hitting me or throwing things around. Instead of punishing her or telling her not to do that; I have made an “Anger pillow” for her. When she is angry I tell her to take it out by punching her anger pillow for however long she wants. So now instead of telling her to suppress her anger, I have taught her what to do with it.
- BALANCE IS THE KEY:
Just like doctors suggest moderate intake of all types of foods to be good for you, balance is the key even for emotional health. If you take too much sugar you might get diabetes, if you eat too much salt your blood pressure will rise and if you eat bacon all day you will clog your arteries towards a heart attack. However, completely giving up sugar,salt or fat is also not good.
Similarly an emotionally healthy individual is one who is balanced. Who doesn’t get depressed during tough times and doesn’t go hysterical when things are going good.
Imagine telling your kid to be happy all day and never cry or get angry. He is a human being who is hopefully not cuckoo! How can he keep smiling always??
So just like you make sure your kid has had his daily portion of protein, carbohydrates and fats make sure he has laughed, cried, got angry, felt sad and overjoyed at different points throughout the day.
I would sum it up by saying that your kid is born with a certain physical, mental and emotional potential. Parenting is nothing but knowing this potential and helping your kid reach it.