Attending to the emotional needs of children and teenagers
Last week, we had talked about the need to take care of the emotional needs of children, especially toddlers. Here, I will write about the different ways for parents to attend to the emotional needs of children and teenagers.
Moving on to the ‘child’ which, refers to the young person aged between 4 and 11, which is a very important time in their lives; the start of the school years. When children start school they learn how to live when away from their primary caregivers and begin to engage in social networks with other young people. They gain a sense of independence from education and become more able to express their emotions and feelings.
The need to feel included: The modern family includes a wide variety of different home situations. Problems can sometimes occur if the family dynamic changes in any way and children may feel left behind. It’s important that when parents change their living situations, children still feel included and valued in their own right. Children can also feel excluded when caregivers are doing an activity together – why would they play alone when they could get involved with what Mum and Dad are doing? The key is boundaries, communication and time. Making time for play may be the best way of soothing the feeling of being left out.
Freedom to solve problems: In a similar way to the freedom to make mistakes, the ability to solve problems on their own without interruption from caregivers is a great way for children to grow in confidence and build their thinking abilities.
It might take the child 20 minutes to figure out how to move the stool to the fridge, but be patient and let them do it. The sense of independence and achievement they will feel from completing the task alone is great for self-esteem, and they may learn to solve problems without constant assistance. This idea can also be applied to problems with other children, small arguments and creating games. Rather than jumping in to solve the social problem for them, why not (within reason) let them figure it out without intervention.
The need to be shown interest: That drawing is the most important achievement your child has had in the last hour and it’s extremely likely they will want you to look at it. Showing interest in your child and their achievements on a regular basis is an extension of demonstrating you understand. Everything they have to say is of the utmost importance to them at that very moment of time – even if it’s extremely inconvenient timing for you. The best solution is not necessarily to drop everything you’re doing to listen, but to always follow up afterwards and make time when you can so that you’re able to pay full attention to what the child has to say.
Clear boundaries: Children aren’t born with knowledge of right and wrong, it has to be taught and practiced. This is something we often forget when our intelligent child makes a seemingly obvious glaring error. It’s obvious to us as adults, but is it obvious to your child? Shouting that something is wrong is a sure fire way of getting child to become anxious about your reactions, without actually guiding them on what the problem was. Give the child a clear, calm explanation on exactly why walking out into a road made you seem angry, and teach them why they shouldn’t do it again.
Finally, the teenager. ‘teen’ refers to young people aged 12-18 as they are considered an adult at age 18, despite not necessarily being fully emotionally mature. Teenagers are stereotypically notorious for emotional outbursts, grunting and grumbling, being unpredictable and telling you everything is unfair. The teen years, however, can be some of the most difficult for young people because they appear independent and responsible, but their reasoning skills and life experience aren’t always there yet.
The need to assert independence: Teens are young adults and often want to be treated as such, yet it’s difficult to know how to nurture somebody who considers themselves an adult half of the time, and spends the rest revolting and snoozing in a truly non adult-like fashion. There is no one size fits all solution, but allowing some assertions of independence may help to build self-esteem and minimise revolt.
Example: You could encourage your teens to assert their independence through managing their own spending money or by organising their own lunches, but intervene and assist when necessary with budgeting or how to scramble an egg.
Freedom to make age appropriate decisions: Teenagers are perfectly capable of deciding what clothes to wear, what music to listen to and what food to eat. Perhaps they can make the wrong decisions, but guiding them to making better choices is better than taking the choices away. Trying to control every aspect of a young person’s life is the first step to pushing them away. Creating an environment for respectful communication and discussion about their decisions suits a teen’s needs better than having a go at them to change their choice of clothing.
The need for fairness and trust Trusting teenagers is pretty scary – they appear old enough but they haven’t mastered the responsibilities that come with adulthood. They can be impressionable and naive which can put them in dangerous situations. It’s a constant balancing act between keeping them safe and allowing them independence. Example: Allowing an independent outing with set boundaries for coming home is a good start – if the young person gives back by adhering to your advice, they can go out again. This could be the start of a fair, trust-filled relationship between parent and teen.
Freedom of expression: Encouraging freedom of expression on all topics – no matter how cringeworthy for a parent – is one of the best ways to build a close bond with your child. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but if you know exactly what your teen knows and thinks about STIs, porn or taking ecstasy, you’re in a much better position to give them the information they need to make the right decisions. If sensitive topics such as sex, racism, religion, drugs or alcohol are forbidden topics in the home, then it’s likely your teen will go out and find the information elsewhere anyway.
The different stages of development in children create new challenges in understanding the emotional needs of a child. Of course, every person – and thus every child – is different, but being open to emotional intelligence can be the start of a mature, highly communicative and positive relationship with your child.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)