When you become a parent, it’s like the axis of your world shifts. One minute, it’s just you. The next, the tiny baby in your arms is the centre of your existence. Some things are more concrete, like food, warmth and shelter, but others can be harder to pin down. How much love is enough love? Can you spoil a baby? How do you know if your baby is doing OK emotionally?
What is a child’s emotional well-being based upon?
For baby’s and young children, their emotional well-being, their happiness, is based upon their relationships with those close to them. This is especially true for their relationship with their parents or primary caregivers. Can you spoil a baby? Science, not to mention instinct, would say no.
Babies thrive when they are loved and cared for and when their needs are met. It is supremely important for babies and children to have a foundation of absolutely unconditional love and this is one way in which you, as a parent, can positively impact your child’s emotional well-being. Simply put, you need to love them.
Emotional guidance and communication
Once you have established a basis of unconditional love, the next step is to set up a relationship whereby all emotions are valid. Many people feel uncomfortable with displays of negative emotions, encouraging others to “stop crying”, “buck up” or “pull it together”. We now know that stifling negative emotions doesn’t make them cease to exist. It just makes them harder to work out of your system.
So when your child is exhibiting strong or negative emotions, it’s quite important for you to be alright with that. Calmly let them know that you love them, that it’s OK to feel angry or sad or frustrated or whatever, that it’s not alright to hurt people or themselves, and that you are available when they are ready to talk.
In this way, you create an environment where it is alright to have feelings. It’s alright to cry it out, rage and hit a pillow, scream and yell. It’s never OK to hurt other people or yourself, but it’s alright to have the feelings and let them work out of your system. You’ll find that allowing your child to work through their feelings this way really does ensure that they don’t hang around for long.
On that basis of unconditional love and acceptance of all feelings, you can build an environment that encourages resilience. In every life, there will be ups and downs, good times and bad ones. When kids are small, you can encourage them to keep trying something that doesn’t come easily to them. As they grow, you can ask them questions like, “what do I already know that can help me with this challenge?” or “how is this similar to another experience I’ve had?”
Creativity and the ability to try new things also go a long way towards encouraging resilience. The child who is afraid to try will grow into the adult who cannot take even small risks for fear of failure.
Emotional well-being is so much more than just happiness. It is a solid foundation upon which all the other lessons, big and small, of childhood and adulthood are based on.