Author: Carol Yan
“The moment we realise that how we react to our kids behaviour sometimes has more to do with how we’re feeling than what they are doing -
This is the moment we understand that our main job as parents must be to keep ourselves emotionally healthy”
If you are already ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ to your beautiful child/children, I am sure you will agree when I say that from the moment these precious mini people are born and the doctor takes them to be weighed, measured, and bundled up, their health becomes one of your highest priorities, if not THE highest priority. As parents, most are instinctively attuned to every sneeze, scratch, bowel movement, and sleep disruption. A great amount of care goes into never missing a check-up or ignoring a persistent cough!
At the same time, how often is this question asked: How emotionally healthy are our children?
In today's culture and society, parents often find themselves encouraged to center their daily lives around their kids. Yet as the focus of attention shifts to carpools, homework tasks, and weekly playdates, parents can run the risk of becoming dangerously distracted from what's also important but often overlooked: how do our children feel? And how do we, as parents, make them feel?
While planning schedules to make our children a practical priority is an act of genuine care and a necessity for routine (for both parents and child) it is also so valuable to stay attuned to a child's feelings, asking them how they are, and allowing them to open up about their thoughts, impressions and feelings. In being able to practice this attunement, it all starts with the emotional well-being and health of the parents.
In general, children's emotions get overlooked, as the focus tends to be placed on how they are behaving - more importantly, how parents feel about their child’s behaviours and how they react from this space.
By maintaining an awareness of your own psychological state as well as the effects of parenting nuances learned from your parents (previous generations), cultural teachings, and social narratives, parents can become more attuned to their children and learn ways to raise emotionally healthy children fitting their family’s unique needs.
It is all too easy for parents to shrug off children's moods or ‘bad’ behaviours, linking them up to developmental stages like the ‘terrible twos’ or ‘teenage rebellion’. Though these stages do contribute to emotional behaviors, it's important to learn to sensitively relate to children while they are in these states, and teach them how to cope with these more challenging emotions.
When we notice an emotional change, which is often shown behaviourally, it's important to try to understand what specifically is impacting them and to respond accordingly. Rather than responding from a space where you feel like you’ve ‘failed’ as a parent, for example. Taking it personally does not help and often leads to reactions which come from feelings of anger or disappointment. How your children feel should always outweigh how you are viewed as their parents.
Ask yourself - perhaps something has scared them? Perhaps they themselves haven't made sense of what has happened? or that they don’t know how to put their experience into words so it comes out through the body?
As adults, showing children that you are interested in and concerned about their specific struggle, you invite them to investigate their own emotions and to better understand their experience and how these link. By being open and nonjudgmental, we encourage kids to be honest and share in their experiences, rather than teaching them to be scared or fearful of speaking up for fear of consequences (punishment etc.).
From the moment children speak their first words, it's essential to encourage them to talk to you. When it comes to influencing your kids, just making rules never works, rather maintaining an open and equal sense of communication does. However, for this to work, parents must be accountable too: you have to live up to your word in order to gain your child's trust. If you invite your children to talk to you honestly, and then are defensive or erratic in your responses, you then give them very good reasons not to tell you what's really going on in their lives.
Therefore, taking care of your own mental health is a key factor in helping your kids feel happy and satisfied. No matter how much you fuss over, worry about or take interest in them, if you are not feeling content and fulfilled in yourself, there is the likely chance of doing more bad than good in terms of your child's emotional well-being and health.
That is why you, as parents, have to ask and check-in with yourselves:
How am I feeling?
Do I feel as if I am getting enough support in my own mental health?
How do the answers to these questions influence the way I am caring for my children?
Am I protecting more than supporting?
Am I putting too much pressure on them, looking to them to meet my needs instead of the other way around?
Am I reacting to them from a personal space?
It’s a fallacy to see this way of self-reflection as being selfish, looking deeper into yourselves and focusing on what is good for you as an individual and a parent is truly beneficial to the overall resilient spirit of your children.
So I guess, the saying “happy mom, happy baby” really means as parents, you should do your best not to react defensively to your children or try to talk them out of their reality. Instead, hearing and sitting with them in their reality helps them make sense of their unique perspective and experience. Giving them the best chance to cope effectively and navigate through more challenging experiences and emotions.
In order to live up to this mantra, it's equally important to remember that very little actually affects your kids more than how you yourselves are feeling. Children are naturally highly attuned to their parents' moods. Putting on a brave face or denying your frustrations will never fully mask what we are feeling, and these feelings, which your children perceive, are sure to impact them.