By Sanjay Chugh December 2001 To develop into emotionally stable individuals, children need unconditional love, opportunities to develop self-confidence and appropriate guidance and discipline Unlike basic physical needs of food, sleep and shelter, a child’s mental and emotional needs may not be obvious. This makes it all the more essential for parents to acknowledge that a child’s mental health is as important as his physical health. Ideally, a child who is mentally and emotionally stable is able to think clearly and positively, learn new skills, is self-confident, and has a healthy emotional outlook on life. He is also able to adapt to new situations easily. To develop into emotionally stable individuals, children need unconditional love, opportunities to develop self-confidence and play with their peer group. They also need encouragement from teachers and caretakers, a safe and secure living environment and appropriate guidance and discipline. Let us examine how you can help your children with each of these. GIVE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE Love, security and acceptance should be at the heart of family life. A child needs to know that your love does not depend on his or her accomplishments and that love will be given for what he or she is and not for what has been achieved. This means that mistakes and failures should be expected and accepted. NURTURE SELF-ESTEEM Your children need your help to develop a healthy sense of self. For this: • Praise and encourage them to explore. Reassure them by smiling and talking to them often.• Be an active participant in their activities. Your attention helps build their self-confidence and self-esteem.• Set realistic goals for them that match ambitions with abilities.• Be honest. Do not hide your failures from your children. Let them know that we all make mistakes and that adults are not perfect.• Avoid sarcastic remarks. If a child is not doing well, find out how he or she feels about the situation. Children may get discouraged and need constant encouragement. Later, when they are ready, talk and offer reassurance.• Encourage them to not only strive to do their best, but also to enjoy the process. Encourage children to try new activities. ENCOURAGE PLAYTIME Playtime is as important to children’s development as food and good care. Playtime helps children be creative, learn problem-solving skills, have better social interactions and learn self-control. Good, hardy play, which includes running and yelling, is not only fun, but helps children be physically and mentally healthy as well. Playtime also enables children to spend time with their peers. During this time, they discover their own strengths and weaknesses, develop a sense of belonging, and learn how to get along with others. Parents can be great playmates too. Playing and participating in play with your child will give you an opportunity to share ideas and spend some relaxed quality time with him or her. It also allows for a special bonding and kinship to develop between you and your child. PLAYING FOR FUN Help your children understand that while playing, winning is not as important as enjoying the activity. Ask them: ”Did you have fun?” and not: ”Did you win?” In our goal-oriented society, we often acknowledge only success and winning. This attitude can be discouraging and frustrating to children who are learning and experimenting with new activities. It’s more important for children to participate and enjoy themselves than to have winning as a focus. GUIDE AND DISCIPLINE Children need the opportunity to explore and develop new skills and independence. At the same time, they also need to learn that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they are responsible for the consequences of their actions. As members of a family, children need to learn the rules of the family unit. They will take these social skills and rules of conduct to their school and eventually to the workplace. You can offer fair and consistent guidance and discipline to your children by: • Making your expectations firm, but kind and realistic. Children’s development depends on your love and encouragement.• Setting a good example. You cannot expect self-control and self-discipline from a child if you do not practice these yourself.• Criticize the behavior, not the child. It is best to say: ”That was a bad thing you did,” rather than: ”You are a bad boy or girl.”• Avoid nagging, threats and bribery. Children will learn to ignore nagging, and threats and bribes are seldom effective.• Explain consequences of actions. Give children the reasons why you are disciplining them and what the potential consequences of their actions might be.• Talk about your feelings. If, for instance, you lose your temper, it is important to talk about what happened and why you are angry. Apologize if you were wrong. And in all this, remember that the goal is not to control the child, but for him or her to learn self-control. PROVIDE SAFETY Fear and anxiety grow out of experiences that we do not understand. It is natural for children to feel afraid sometimes. If your children have fears that will not go away and affect his or her behavior, the first step is to find out what is frightening them. Be loving, patient and reassuring, not critical. Remember that the fear may be very real to the child. In spite of all that you can do, there are times when you might have to seek professional help to deal with your children’s problems. The following must be regarded as warning signals to do so: • Decline in school performance and poor grades despite dedicated efforts• Constant anxiety and nightmares• Repeated refusal to go to school or take part in routine children’s activities• Hyperactivity and fidgety behavior• Persistent disobedience, aggression or frequent temper tantrums• Depression, sadness or irritability A child’s mental health and emotional well being cannot be ignored, for by doing so, parents are failing in their most significant duty and responsibility they have towards their children. Contact:Dr Sanjay Chugh,Senior Consultant Psychiatrist,Child and Adolescent Guidance Centre,New Delhi, India.Tel: 91-11-6833414, 6903666, 6239746, 6319241
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