Avoiding Mental Health Issues In Children By Acknowledging Their Feelings
How were your feelings dealt with a child?
This crucial question can help parents understand why they find parenting so difficult at times because it parents grew up not being able to express their feelings they can find it even harder to hold space for their child’s expression of big feelings.
Did your parents Emotionally Attune to you?
How often did your parents ask you “How are you feeling?” and when you did have strong feelings were they acknowledged and were you offered empathy?
“Emotional attunement is the state of recognizing, understanding and engaging with someone’s emotional state. Emotional attunement is an important part of all relationships, but is especially important in romantic partnerships. Many psychologists explain emotional attunement using analogies about infants and caregivers.”
Did you Feel Seen, Heard and understood?
Because you can grow up in what appears to be a lovely family (and I’m not doubting that your family isn’t lovely) it isn’t the parental practicalities that greatly impact a child’s mental wellbeing, what impacts a child is how their feelings get dealt with.
Some questions to help you reflect on your childhood and whether your parents emotionally attuned with you.
- How did your feelings get dealt with when you were a child?
Were you soothed by your parents?
Did you feel like your feelings and experiences were valid and perfectly OK to have?
Were you understood and comforted or were you told not to feel and cried by yourself or went to sleep alone being left with your rage, anger, hurt, upset?
If you weren’t soothed by your parents your capacity today as an adult to deal with unpleasant or painful emotions become less and less possible as the number of missed emotional attunements adds up. Therefore the capacity to tolerate painful emotions diminishes.
Some statements you may have heard if your feelings were being dismissed:
“If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about”
“Stop being so sensitive”
“You’re being irrational, it wasn’t like that”
“You need to go to your room and calm down’“
“You’re so ungrateful. Dad and I do all of this for you and your still unhappy”
“I don’t want to see your face, go away until you’ve snapped out of it”
“Look I’m busy, I haven’t got time to listen to you whining”
Emotional attunement is where parents really see, hear and validate children. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with your child’s feelings. What matters is you acknowledge them. You allow them to be expressed and you really hold empathy for your child. You stop what your doing, you look them in the eye and you let them know you are there for them.
When parents hold space for children to express their feelings in a healthy, safe way children are able to feel more optimist about those feelings which makes them less susceptible to depression or anxiety later on in life:
**There’s no guaranteed way to avoid mental health difficulties later on in life but it certainly helps to install in us a belief that all emotions are valid.