Avoiding Mental Health Issues In Children By Acknowledging Their Feelings
How many people grew up in a loving, happy, kind family environment. Perhaps you went on lovely family holidays, Christmas was always a joyous family affair and you have great childhood memories.
And how many who grew up in this type of family set up, now as adults struggle with mental health issues?
Have you ever suffered from depression, anxiety, low self esteem?
Now I want you go back and ask “How were my feelings dealt with as a child?”
Did your parents emotionally attune to you?
And by emotionally attuning to you I mean did your parents often ask you “How are you feeling?” and when you did have strong feelings were they acknowledged and were you offered empathy?
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) however 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.
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.
You know yourself how it can instantly calm you down when someone turns around and says: “Oh I totally understand, that sucks doesn’t it” when your complaining about a situation you’re in opposed to: “Ah, it’s not that much of a big deal, just forget about it”
We HATE having our feelings diminished or ignored. And it can make you seriously unwell living a life suppressing your true feelings.
“The most common cause of adult depression is not what’s happening to the adult in the present. But because as a child they did not learn in their relationship with their parents how they can be soothed” - Philippa Perry
When our parents do however hold space for us to express our feelings healthily we are liable to feel more optimist about those feelings which makes us less susceptible to depression or anxiety later on in life:
We must acknowledge, take seriously and validate our child’s feelings.
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 what ever emotion we experience we are still acceptable and however bad we may feel it will pass.