We live in one of the most exciting times in our world’s history. Weekly, if not daily there are technological advancements that people in just the last generation only dreamed of. For all of these advancements, however, there are some drawbacks. The anonymity of a world online makes emotional health take a backseat as children are pushed to learn everything faster, bullying is easier than ever, and we’re the most isolated we’ve ever been.
Here are some practical tips on raising children that are emotionally healthy in this digital age.
Communicate early and often
From the moment your children are brought into this world, you should begin communicating with them. In fact, some experts say you should start the communication while they are still in the womb. Vanderbilt University suggests reading to your baby and relaxing as much as possible before you give birth. This will help your child recognise your voice, let them connect with you faster, and could help them to be less stressed as they grow up. Communicating with your child, and telling them early on that everything will be okay, could assist in preventing future feelings of anxiety.
Start chatting about everything before you’re ready
Did you know that toddlers as young as two are already learning how to play games on phones and tablets? Children today are exposed to a variety of things earlier than we were, including topics such as smoking, drugs, sex, violence and more. You might not be ready to start talking to them about any of these things, but it’s important to instil in your children that they are loved, and that you will not judge them for their curiosity about any subject.
Answer questions that will inevitably come up honestly, and openly. Those things you don’t know the answers to, be honest about that too. Then, find those answers and discuss them as well. The sooner you open the lines of communication, the sooner they will know that home is a safe space to learn, question and discuss. And, it lessens the likelihood they will head to Google or some other search engine to get their own answers.
Instil strong self-esteem early on
According to a study by the University of Washington, “By age five children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to that of adults.” It is because of this that instilling a high self-esteem in our children as early as possible is critical.
The University of Missouri said that “fostering healthy self-esteem and a positive self-concept among family members can make a real difference in how members view themselves and their ability to succeed in life.” They went on to say that, “research shows that parents who guide the development of resiliency factors in their children can help them learn to adapt and protect them from such destructive behaviours as drug abuse, underage drinking, and teen pregnancy.”
As you start noticing your child’s strengths, you should start telling them what you feel they are excelling at. This could be something as simple as saying “you’re so smart,” or “I love your finger painting,” or even “you did such a good job putting away all your toys, I’m so proud of you.” Although these types of compliments may seem slightly trivial to the adult mind, letting our children know that we are proud of them, and love them as often as we can, could have a profound effect on their self-esteem as they age.
Be affectionate and give hugs
Granite Falls school district in Washington published a report on fostering healthy self-esteem, and one thing they suggested was, “Be spontaneous and affectionate with your children. Your love will go a long way to boost your children’s self-esteem. Give your children hugs.”
Hugs can make a child feel better. As one Penn State article said, “Hugs affect our entire body and create a high that is similar to that of different drugs and stimulants. Overall, any type of physical affection, especially hugging, can benefit the brain, the heart and other body systems you might never have realised.” Furthermore, “hugging can instantly change a person’s mood for the better…[and] the act of a hug can lead to long term health benefits. A 10-second hug a day can lead to biochemical and physiological reactions in your body that can significantly improve your health.”
Finally, monitor their feelings
The sad reality is that children often don’t want to tell us when something is wrong. When they are faced with a bully at school or online, many children direct their pain inwards, rather than speaking up. Monitor your children’s feeling, and check in with them regularly to ensure everything is okay. This is especially critical when they start hanging out online more frequently on social sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
The older they get, the less likely they are to open up about things going on online and otherwise. It is important to probe the answers out of them with questions like, “How was your day?” and “Did anything new happen?” Simple enquiries like this can open the door making a child feel like it’s okay to discuss anything that may be out of sorts. In other words, it call comes back to communication. Like I said in the beginning – talk early, and often.
I discuss all of the topics presented here, and others at greater length in my book, The Practical Guide to Raising Emotionally Healthy Children. To learn more about the book and get a free chapter, visit the book’s website.
Nekeshia Hammond, Psy.D. is a psychologist and expert in ADHD and learning disabilities, and speaker on bullying and children’s mental health topics. Dr Hammond has been featured on NBC, ABC, CBS, Tampa Bay Times, Essence, Tampa Bay Parenting, Ebony and other media outlets sharing her expertise on children and parenting. Check out the Hammond Psychology blog at www.HammondPsychology.com.