Childhood is crucially important time for development of the individual. Just as the environment for a seedling can dictate it’s growth potential, the same can be said for children.
Are we providing our kids with environments to thrive and grow…into big, bold and compassionate people with BIG ideas? Or do we unwittingly stunt their growth? I can’t think of any parent who would consciously choose to stunt their children’s growth or purposefully provide them with an unhealthy environment. But, as I found out, you have to choose healthy, if you want healthy.
I wasn’t aware that I had to choose this, and I wasn’t aware that it would require such a commitment.
I soon learned that if I didn’t consciously choose the way I wanted raise my children, then I parented on auto-pilot. And my autopilot wasn’t so steady. Unless you have studied early childhood development and have dedicated yourself to this, you might be flying on autopilot too.
The everyday interactions we have with our children dictate the environment in the home. That’s it. It’s not rocket science. This one thing has the greatest impact on what your child learns from you. When I realized this, it sank in deep. It was not a great feeling. Flashing in front of me were all the interactions, all the ways that I had been that likely were not healthy. I decided I had to do better.
But how? I did research and found a resounding consistency amongst experts as to what the secret ingredient to parenting is: fostering emotional health.
“In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life…”
–Dr. John Gottman,
So what is emotional well-health and why is it important?
Emotional health and well-being involves being aware of and accepting of our feelings, being able to constructively share these feelings. It involves having a strong sense of self, a positive attitude, and being able to deal with disappointments and learn from mistakes.
Childhood is where we either learn this, or don’t learn it.
But like I said, I was parenting on auto-pilot. My early parenting attempts were to get my kids to behave, my focus was not on emotional well being. My focus was control. In doing so, I was teaching them that what I wanted was most important than who they wanted to be. I was teaching them to ignore or downplay their own emotions. I was teaching them to be quiet and listen…not to express themselves and have a voice. And worst of all, I was teaching them that they needed to do what I asked, and be different, in order to be accepted. They had to change in order to please me.
As adults so many of us have feelings of not being okay the way we are, not being fully acceptable or lovable. Some of us discover years later that what we are doing, or the life that we are living, doesn’t feel quite right. We have hidden large parts of ourselves that have gone unexpressed.
I think our family of origin and the rules and expectations placed upon us has a big part to play in this.
I decided that how I treated my kids really mattered. After some thought, I decided I wanted my children to be their own people, with their own ideas and own feelings, self aware and self confident. I wanted to support them in being who they wanted to be, not who I wanted them to be. I wanted my kids to thrive, not to be stunted. I decided that my new mission was to help my kids become the best versions of themselves that they could be. For me, this started with accepting my kids for who they were.
The messages we send within each home, within each classroom, have big impacts on children and what they believe to be true about themselves and the world. How we speak to kids, how we treat them, shapes their views of themselves and the world. For me, this is biggest thing I can work on and the most important thing I can do for my children: is to validate them and treat them in a way that lets them know that they are loved, respected, and accepted for just who they are.