Do you know that feeling of being all right with the world after you resolve a conflict with a loved one? Or how, after a trying day at work or school, you return to the place you share with your loved ones, a safe and warm refuge?
Emotional needs are real
We are emotional beings, though the process of learning how to decipher and balance emotions is hardly a straight line. From the moment we come into the world, our development depends on having warm, nurturing connections with our caregivers.
While our emotional needs are dependent on age and temperament, all of us are better equipped to face challenges, at an individual or societal level, when we are provided with unconditional love and emotional support, including a safe space to express our emotions and to learn how to manage them.
Showing love is important
There was a time when the prevailing view was that children should be “seen and not heard.” Some of our older relatives, and perhaps even our parents, have never been told “I love you” in words.
And yet, they grew up to be well-rounded humans with big loving hearts and open arms. That’s because words are only part of it.
“We need to feel loved throughout our whole life, and that can be manifested in words and warm gestures too,” says Catherine Cloutier, a clinical counsellor. But, she adds, “cultural barriers may have prevented open manifestations back in the day, and parenting styles, while loving, tended to be less inclined toward emotional awareness.”
Over the years, however, we have come to realize the importance of emotional awareness, and parenting standards have changed.
Unconditional love comes with boundaries
Feeling loved helps our children thrive emotionally and intellectually, and become more socially adapted.
However, much like a hug that cradles our child closely, there is a vital component of emotional intelligence we ought to teach them from the very beginning: healthy boundaries. “Children feel loved and safe when we provide boundaries,” says Cloutier.
When allowed to explore feelings and emotions within the confines of a safe environment, children learn to express themselves, but they also learn to listen and respect other people’s feelings and emotions.
Children’s resilience is rooted in learning about boundaries and in discovering that decisions have consequences and that failure is part of life.
Meeting basic needs is the logical baseline
Anyone who has tried to reason with a sleep-deprived or hungry toddler knows too well that noble intentions and deep reserves of patience may be wasted unless we address our children’s physical needs first. Ensuring that children are rested and have proper nutrition lays a smoother foundation for tackling and managing emotional needs.
Children who feel loved, and have their physical and emotional needs met, are well adjusted emotionally. They are better equipped to experience, regulate, and express their emotions and are willing to explore new environments.
A reminder, however: “Every child is different and so are their emotional thresholds and needs, so our parenting has to reflect that,” says Cloutier.
Emotional wellness from the top down
Can children be happy and well adjusted if their parents are struggling emotionally? It’s complicated.
When parents love each other and share a mutually respectful relationship, their children are more likely to stay in school, and they are likely to marry later. But love and respect can exist in many a relationship context. Parents can be emotionally healthy and engaged when in a relationship, but the same can be true when they go separate ways.
No matter the context, if conflicts are resolved and the common goal remains providing an emotionally stable and loving environment, children can flourish.
Sometimes though, things can go sideways. “When the relationship is toxic, the safety and emotional well-being of children is impacted,” says Cloutier. If possible, children should always know that they are not the cause of parental conflict, nor are they responsible to fix it.
There’s something else that today’s parents may need to consider. In the past, there was greater tendency for extended family and community support, but nowadays, “parents [may be] facing higher expectations and lower support, which increases the stress load,” says Cloutier.
All emotions are normal
Many adults are partial to positive emotions, and that translates into how we help children understand emotions in general. It turns out that we need both kinds—negative emotions, too—and sometimes the boundaries between them can be blurry.
“Teaching children to communicate their emotions is important, but even more important is that we listen,” says Cloutier.
Being listened to helps children grow confident and able to get along with others. As our children become adults, they will encounter conflicts and they will also need to function under pressure.
Our caregivers’ unconditional love improves our psychological well-being and capacity to see the glass half full.
Love and emotional wellness: The bottom line
“We want our children to be their best in any circumstance, knowing that mistakes are part of the learning process, and a lot of learning will happen outside the home,” says Cloutier.
Starting them on the right path has a lot to do with the safety, love, and acceptance we provide as parents, but also with the support we extend as they navigate life by themselves.
Emotional wellness through love
babies · hold them, sing, and talk to them toddlers · get down on the floor with them and play
· listen and answer questions
· help them name and understand emotions
school-age children · go for walks together and play just-for-fun sports (take turns choosing!)
· provide a safe space for them to share emotionally charged stories, and allow them to find answers
teenagers · create space for meaningful conversations (car drives are perfect!)
· teach by example: kindness, altruistic behavior, and the importance of emotional awareness
at any age · model self-care and healthy boundaries
· be willing to learn from your children
Our busy minds
Humans go through approximately 6,000 thoughts a day and experience 27 different distinct emotions. That’s a lot to handle for adults, and especially for children! Our (and their) ability to cope is enhanced when we are strongly connected and doing fun things together.