Memorial Regional Health: Tips for raising emotionally healthy children
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Memorial Regional Health has compiled the following tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help you communicate effectively with the children in your life and model healthy interpersonal skills.
Teach and model good communication skills
Good communication skills help children self-manage their emotions and behaviors. The same skills also help them effectively interact with others and navigate the world around them. Here are some ways to model good communication skills: Speak calmly. Be consistent in your rules and responses. Use politeness words like “please” and “thank you.” Apologize when you make a mistake. Use calm words to express feelings rather than screaming or acting out physically.
When you actively listen to your children and regularly give them your full attention, you are teaching them that they are safe and loved. You are also modeling for them how to actively listen to others. Put away your phone. Sit close to your child and maintain eye contact. Repeat back or summarize what they’ve told you.
“It sounds like you were scared,” you might say. Or, “I hear that you’re feeling frustrated.” The primary goal of active listening is understanding, not advice-giving. After understanding has been established, then you can then the child if they would like your help solving a problem.
Remember that body language is language, too
We express ourselves with our words and also our body language. For example, hands on hips means frustration or aggression. So do eye rolls, slamming doors and stomping around. Taking deep, calming breaths, on the other hand, is a positive behavior. And hitting children is never OK. Studies have proven that spanking and other forms of corporal punishment only increase the likelihood that children will themselves become aggressive and even more defiant in the future.
Focus on the behavior, not the child
Children aren’t bad, but as they learn and grow, they sometimes make bad choices. You can help them understand that making mistakes is a normal part of growing up. You can also reassure them that no matter what they do, you will always love them. Avoid telling them they “are” something bad, such as lazy or dumb. They may have behaved in ways that seem lazy or dumb to you, but that doesn’t mean they are intrinsically those things. Children are not their mistakes.
Talk to other adults about your adult concerns
It’s good to tell children how you’re feeling using “I” statements. “I’m frustrated and tired,” you might say. This teaches children how to express their own feelings in healthy ways. But be careful about burdening children with adult concerns. It is the parent’s role to provide food and shelter, for example — not the child’s. It is important to express your feelings, however, so be sure to open up to other adults whenever you’re feeling stressed or need a sounding board.
Take a break if you’re feeling overwhelmed
Parenting may be the hardest job on earth. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Remember that timeouts work for both kids and grown-ups. Find ways to fit in self-care and recharge your batteries.
If you see that a child is being abused or neglected, help them
If you believe that a child in your community is being abused or neglected, they need your help. Call the 24/7 Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 844-CO-4-Kids. In life-threatening situations, call 911.
To make an appointment with pediatrician Dr. Linda Couillard or any of our excellent primary-care providers, call 970-826-2480 or visit MemorialRegionalHealth.com.
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