Emotional development is the software

Jan 18, 2008 at 12:07 p.m. ET

Just like a car needs gas to run, we need food to run our bodies and minds. The difference between a car and our minds, is that we have emotions, feelings and thoughts. Cars don't.

We also need fuel to run our minds effectively to deal with the challenges, disappointments, roadblocks and stop signs of life. Emotional development -- teaching kids to feel comfortable with themselves, their feelings and thoughts -- is the fuel for brain and mind development. If you don't help your child develop in this way, they will limp through life, missing stop signs, danger signs and turn left notifications. They will be unable to unload the feelings that pile up in the body, because they won't know how to cope with them. They will drink to deal, use drugs to deal, be closed and disconnected, work endlessly to avoid feeling, and have cavemen conversations, like, "huh/what? Talk to you later." No substance, no depth, surface lives, surface chatter, surface relations with others.

So what is emotional development?
It is noticing what someone isn't saying. If your child brings home a bad grade, you notice that, and maybe make an assumption that they didn't study, and you might ground them. Emotionally developed people would sit the child down and ask what happened. Are they having trouble in school? Is the work too much, too hard? It isn't making assumptions. You ask a child to wear an outfit and they say no. You reprimand them without questioning why they don't like it. You listen to their opinion. Respecting a person and their ideas and feelings is key.

If someone makes a mistake, your goal is to help them learn from it, not criticize them and put them down for their poor thinking. This creates low self esteem. Listening, questioning, caring and showing that through expression, all promote emotional development. Allow kids to have choices and make decisions about dinner, clothing, what they would like to do for the day. Fish for their ideas on school and family. Don't tell them what and how to think.

Evaluate their thinking and direct them when their thinking is getting them in trouble. Always explain why. Do not say" because, I said so." That is control, not joining with your child in a joint venture of cooperation and learning. The beauty of children cannot be compared with much in life. They are innocent beings, waiting to get the emotional teachings they need to get by in this world and to meet the most basic of needs, love, communication, freedom, happiness, choice and survival .

To promote emotional development you will:

  • Listen to your child, and look at them.
  • Offer affection, touch, love.
  • Set aside time to talk to them about feelings, not just what they did on Tuesday.
  • Inquire about how they feel, regarding a world event, a personal story.
  • Put them to bed with a hug and offer love and security. They all need it.
  • Don't make assumptions by their expressions and behaviors. The angry child wants to talk, and the overly busy one needs attention.
  • Value their ideas and thank them for their input.
  • Honor them, like in Bat /Bar mitzvahs Have a Bar/Bat Mitzvahs in your own way no matter what your faith.
  • Honor their transitions into new stages of life.
  •  Ask them questions when you need help. Let them be valuable.
  • Love them, listen to them, dance with them!