“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass
Let me tell you, that quote just hits you differently when you have kids of your own. In my line of work, I come across many adults who struggle in and with relationships. Some cannot connect outside of the physical, some believe that drama is a love language, and some won’t trust others to save their life.
While I’m not going to sit here and say all issues stem from our childhood, a lot of things can be explained by the relationship dynamics we experienced as kids.
More often than not, it is the men that I work with that have issues dealing with emotions. That’s not all the surprising, given our culture of males being taught to oppress emotions such as hurt, fear, and pain. Our young girls are not exactly exempt from this either. Girls are expected to be overly emotional (read dramatic). In order to not be seen as weak, girls will sublimate their emotions through food and other distractions or just shut down altogether.
This isn’t healthy ya’ll. We have generations of children who grow up to be emotional deserts. How are we ever supposed to have authentic relationships with one another if we can’t even deal with what is going on with ourselves?
So how do we raise emotionally rich kids? What is an emotional rich kid anyway? Emotionally rich kids have had the experience of becoming acquainted with all of their emotional triggers and how to process it in productive way. They have the ability to use discernment, which is crucial to creating a successful life, both professionally and personally. Those who don’t have the ability to understand or control their emotions find themselves at disadvantage while navigating life. They become a slave to their emotions, which make them susceptible to predators who want to take advantage of that. Here are some ways that I am helping to nurture my kids’ emotional bank.
Your emotions are real and they are valid.
Kids cry. Not a big surprise there. Sometimes they cry to get a reaction, sometimes it because they don’t have the words to articulate their emotions, and other times, its because they don’t know what to do about it.
The absolute WORST thing you can do, in my opinion, is tell a child to just stop crying or to get over it. It is counterproductive to teach children that expressing emotion is not appropriate, even worse, that it is bad. Children don’t yet have a handle on just why it is that they are so angry, sad, or frustrated; they need the freedom to be able to express it freely and naturally. According to Lauren Bylsma, a PhD student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, turning on the waterworks is believed to expel stress hormones or toxins from the body. They may kick, scream, and embarrass the crap out of you, but it is completely healthy to just let it out! As a parent, it’s my job to give them the words to help them name the emotion so that they are able to understand them. For example, my daughter used to scream and cry her big brother beat her in a video game. After calming her down and gt her to explain in her own words what happened, I’ll let her know that what she is feeling is FRUSTRATION at not being able to win the game. Frustration is when you want to do or say something, but cannot for whatever reason.
Channel emotions productively
So how do you master your emotions? By learning use them effectively for your benefit. My daughter frustrated with always losing to her big brother can be harnessed to focus on what they CAN do to be better, faster, stronger the next time they play. My son habitually gets into it with a classmate and sometimes that ends in bad behavior in the classroom. Instead of focusing on the bad behavior (at least at first), I turn it into a lesson in communication, friendship, and loyalty. EVERYTHING is a lesson, and it’s all about making sure that you as the parent are the “Master of Spin”, being conscious of opportunities to turn negative situations into positive lessons learned.
Promote Healthy Love
You can’t teach love. Love is an experience. Love is felt. Children as young as a few months experience what love is supposed to be by how they see it displayed in their environment. Emotionally rich kids are surrounded by positive, healthy expressions of love between parents and members of their family. As parents, we should also be promoting and enforcing what is appropriate displays of affection from them and what is not.
Too much affection? No such thing!
My husband and I work to create a home environment where open and honest affection is not only the norm, but is expected! Hugs, kisses, compliments, and affirmations are free, but their value is priceless. I love on my kids early, often, and with great enthusiasm. Not just in good times when they make me happy or when they do something great, but in bad times too. They need to know that my love isn’t conditional or for sale. It is a huge confidence builder; which they will need once they get out into the big bad world.
Who deserves your love and attention?
Not everyone deserves my children’s affection. Some people are just jerks. Yeah, kids can be jerks too. I teach my kiddies how to tell the difference between those who want to be around them for who they are, not what they have or can do for them. This can be difficult sometimes because kids want to believe the best in people or are willing to take a little pain to be popular or in the in-crowd. I’m super nosy about the friendships that they keep and the ones they desire. I remind them that friends and family who deserve their attention would never abuse it or take it for granted.
What are some other ways to create emotional-rich kids? I’d love to read your ideas!