A large part of my work as a therapist is to help normalize any and all emotions for both my adult and child clients. This got me thinking about what other things are essential for adults to be normalizing for children so that they grow up with emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Research indicates that emotional intelligence is more important than intellectual intelligence because it allows us to build a fulfilling life. Who doesn’t want that for their children?
Whether a child is behaving in a way that we are pleased with or not, we should be normalizing their emotions. We want to help them label what they are feeling, and link that they are behaving in X way because of Y feeling so they start to learn that their emotions can affect their behavior and thoughts. When a child is dysregulated, this is not the time to try to change behavior (unless they are harming themselves or others). As adults, we have “bad days” where we may raise our voice because we are mad or cry because we are sad. We need to make sure children learn that it is okay to have those feelings, just like it is okay to feel happy. When parents consciously or unconsciously teach their children that showing or talking about their feelings is “bad”, they are setting them up for mental health concerns.
No one has succeeded at everything that they do, so we need to make sure that children know that failing is okay and a part of life. As adults, if we were to grade ourselves for our performance at work everyday for a month, would we always give ourselves an ‘A’? Probably not, and that is okay, because sometimes we have days where we are burnt out or unable to focus. We should not be holding our children to an unrealistic standard of productivity. This also goes for grades. If a child is not doing well in school, there is a reason, and it is imperative to uncover what that reason is. Accusing and belittling your child will only foster low self-esteem and anxiety or perfectionism. For example, if a child is dealing with symptoms of ADHD and they did not turn their work in on time, they are just as angry with themselves and sad about it as the parent may be. They do not need another person criticizing them. Instead, teach them that that happens sometimes, and work on strategies to help them with this skill in the future.
3. Sex and Physical Boundaries
This is a controversial topic, as some parents have religious or personal views that deter them from talking about sex with their children. It is important to know that there is research that outlines that children who are taught about sex are more likely to wait longer to have sex. I say this only to help parents understand that talking about sex does not take a child’s innocence, but actually helps them build a better sense of self and assertiveness. Another component to this is making sure that when you are teaching your children about sex, you label body parts with their standard terms (i.e. penis, vagina, clitoris etc.). When you are doing this, make sure you are aware of your tone and non-verbals. When children see that you are comfortable talking about these things, this safeguards them even more if they eventually have to disclose any kind of abuse to you or someone else. A rule of thumb is, if you don’t teach them, the Internet and porn will, which creates unrealistic standards about sex and boundaries.
This is another topic that is difficult for some families due to their religious views. Unfortunately, there is a harsh reality to this; if you do not normalize different sexual preferences/orientations and your child identifies as LGBTQI+, then you are setting them up for low self-esteem, and anxiety. Imagine if you had to hide something from the family that you loved. In therapy, becoming comfortable with your genuine self is an underlying goal. The path to feeling comfortable with ourselves becomes much harder if our family is not accepting of who we are. This can inhibit the individual from being open to others, or encourage them to hide who they really are. Please be aware of how powerful a parent’s acceptance can be on their child’s life.