Emotional Development (Pt 2 of 4 Childhood Development Series)
Continuing with the series on child development, this week we are looking at how we can ensure that your kids are developing emotional maturity. If you have a toddler or preschooler, your biggest question is whether or not your little one is meeting developmentally appropriate social and emotional skills for their age. While it is helpful to understand and know what to expect when it comes to their emotional development, it is also important to realize that emotional skills do not develop at the same rate for every child.
Two of my favorite resources for promoting emotional growth are:
As a parent, you can rest assured that every milestone for your child’s development in social and emotional skills will improve over time. Your role as their primary caregiver is to provide the most encouraging and supportive environment for their growth at home. But, how do you serve as a guide to positively reinforce emotional development in a fun and natural way? What can you do proactively to ensure that you are the best guide possible? Here are some of the critical items to be mindful of when it comes to nurturing your child’s development of their emotional skills.
Children thrive in routines. Having a structured daily routine at home gives your toddler or preschooler a safe and secure environment for their emotional child development. When your son or daughter feels secure, they will be more open to experiment, taking calculated risks, and spread their wings. In other words, when a child knows what to expect, they have less anxiety. When children have less anxiety, they are able to access the parts of the brain that develop their frontal cortex, where they make logical and sound decisions.
This part of the brain is the last to develop (typically done by 25 years old) but it’s important that during childhood they are doing things to promote that development. Maintain that safe environment for your child’s emotional development by playing games that require cooperation, taking turns, and the concept of winning and losing. The “everyone gets a trophy” movement has backfired on our children. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It’s best that your child learn how to lose gracefully (as much as possible) through practicing at home with you and other family members. Make sure your home is that “safe place to land” so that from there, they can then learn how to accept and understand their feelings, resolve conflicts, and create friendships with others outside of the safe and loving confines of their home.
Understanding how your children respond emotionally to stressors can be very helpful. Pay particular attention to how they interact one-on-one with others their age, as well as in group settings. Once you have seen a pattern, you will be better able to address any potential challenges in your child's development. Some children tend to be very bossy. If a parent knows this about their child, they can be ready for the day their child cries about losing a friend. A short q&a session will likely reveal their daughter’s bossiness is the cause. This parent can ask simple questions that allow their child to realize that their need to be boss contributed to the problem.
In this way, the child can then make some decisions or be open to suggestions on how to move forward. A word of caution. We are not psychologists and we don’t need to be. The simple act of paying attention is all that is needed. However, today’s parents are incredibly distracted. I recommend parents set limits and boundaries around these distractions. Have a rule that family dinners are at least 5 days a week and device free. Put your electronics away during bed and bath time (turn them completely off as to not be tempted by a buzz or ring). By removing distractions, we can more naturally pay attention to our children.
Helping our kids recognize their emotions
Engage your children in conversations about feelings. Modeling is essential to your child's development. If you are feeling sad, it’s okay to say “I’m feeling sad today.” You don’t have to have a reason, just say how you feel. If your older children are misbehaving, you don’t have to pretend everything is fine. Saying “I’m getting very frustrated and I’m feeling angry right now.” Then take a break.
You’re modeling how to identify, name, and take care of your emotions. Being comfortable with expressing their emotions is vital to a child’s development; they will need as much encouragement as possible to practice recognizing their feelings and learning how to cope with them.
Creating and sustaining emotional boundaries with our children can be a tough task, especially in their formative child development years when they are still learning to understand the feelings they are experiencing. Although it is essential for children to recognize and be comfortable with the different ranges of emotions, it is more important to teach our children the boundaries of what is acceptable regarding expressing these feelings.
Provide healthy boundaries in the security of your home of what is safe and healthy to express, and what is considered dangerous and inappropriate. For example, aggressive behaviors such as pushing and shoving because of feelings of anger are not acceptable. Alternatives such as going to the “tantrum room” to cry it out or using a punching bag may be acceptable alternatives while giving space for children to express their emotions.
Be the best example for your children
Our children learn best by example, whether that is your example, your spouse’s, elder children’s, or other relatives and friends. When it comes to child development, developing coping skills for managing emotions is best learned through modeling. By showing your children how you deal with your feelings, such as apologizing when you lose your temper or facing your fears when you are out of your comfort zone, your kids will watch and learn through your actions.
When you try and be the best example for your child, you are supporting and providing reassurance to their growth in the area of emotional development. Your actions speak much louder than your words, so be diligent in doing what you preach to your kids. Otherwise, you may lose your authority and their trust as the primary example in their life.
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