Even when you lavish lots of kisses and hugs on your kiddo, you may not be giving him the emotional support he needs. "Loving your kids and being emotionally attentive to them are not the same thing," explains psychologist Dr. Jonice Webb, author of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. "If you ignore your child's emotions, your child will feel ignored on some level, no matter how much attention you pay to him in other ways." Dr. Webb offers these tips for parents to avoid the trap of emotional neglect:
While it's easy to go into mother hen mode and respond to what you assume is the situation, it's important that you truly understand what type of emotional support your kids really need in that moment. But, no one promises it to be an easy feat! "Emotion hides behind behavior," explains Dr. Webb. "It's easier to get angry with a child who is sulking and being stubborn, for example, than to look for the underlying emotion that's causing the behavior, such as fear." Pay extra attention to your kid when you see any hint of emotion and properly identify what it is he's truly experiencing.
Find the emotional trigger
Before you can guide your youngster about what he's feeling, first you'll need to seek out what is triggering the emotion at hand. For example, when you notice that your tween is frustrated is it because his homework is difficult or is he frustrated about having to finish it before playing his new game? Once you know what's prompting your kiddo's emotion you can help him navigate his loneliness, anger, frustration and more.
To help your youngster receive the emotional support you're offering, you'll have to get through to him first. And, the most effective way to break down those walls is to help your child know that you understand how he feels. "When you show that you understand your child's emotion, he will feel an instant bond with you," advises Webb. "Put the feelings into words for him and teach him how to use his own words to express it. For instance, if he spends a lot of time alone, you might say, 'You seem sad to be all alone on a beautiful day. Is it lonely not to have a friend here with you?'"
It's human nature for your child to be his own biggest critic, but it's up to you as a parent to teach your kiddo the art of self-forgiveness. Help your youngster to understand which parts of a situation he can control and what he can change about it, but keep your judgments to yourself; feeling the blame from you may result in him automatically blaming himself and feeling emotionally neglected.
Giving your kids the emotional support they need to grow into happy kids with good self-esteem doesn't mean you have to beat yourself up in the process. "A parent doesn't have to be perfect to make the child feel emotionally cared for," assures Webb. "If she or he works a little bit at a time to be more emotionally attentive, it can make an enormous difference in the adult child's happiness." And, that is the best way you can show you love your kids!
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