5 Keys to Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids

"For reasons having to do with the peculiarities of our civilization, we pay a great deal of attention to our scholastic educations, which are formal and supervised, and we devote much less public thought to our emotional educations, which are unsupervised and haphazard. This is odd, since our emotional educations are much more important to our long-term happiness and the quality of our lives."
David Brooks in "The Other Education"

The sentiments expressed in this column which was published in The New York Times (11/27/09) have long been the concern of Gerald Newmark, Ph.D and author of How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children. "Our emotions are the foundation of everything," says the expert. "They determine more than 95 percent of how we think and act yet they aren't given much attention."

Newmark feels so strongly about the importance of emotional health he has devoted the majority of his professional career (more than 40 years) to educating families, schools, and communities about it.

"We've had decade after decade of problems—school drop outs, pregnant teenagers, depression, drug abuse, etc.—nothing has worked because we haven't addressed the root of the problem, which is the neglect of emotional health at home and at school."

That particular problem—which Newmark refers to as the missing agenda—inspired him to write his book as well as form The Children's Project, a non-profit group that works with schools and communities to promote mental well-being.

In order to raise well-adjusted, emotionally-healthy children, Newmark says it's important for parents to recognize that every child has five critical needs.

"Children need to feel respected, important, secure, included, and accepted (not necessarily in that order). If those needs don't get satisfied when you're young you carry this deficit into adulthood," Newmark explains adding that one of our culture's biggest social problems—having 60 million depressed Americans—can be traced to a breakdown in one or more of those areas.

Emotional Health: What Parents Can Do

Strong parenting and emotional wellbeing are closely connected. In order to be a good parent, Newmark says to embrace the notion that parenting is one of life's most difficult and most important roles. "Parenting isn't easy but having goals and strategies will help you do the job right."

Dr. Newmark offers some child-rearing strategies:

1. Think about and discuss with your spouse how you're both doing as parents and identify areas for improvement.
To assist you, solicit feedback from you kids. "Meet with them on a regular basis and ask them what they think," suggests the author. "Ask them to give you examples of what you did well and also if you did anything that made them feel unimportant (or disrespected or unaccepted, etc). Go through the five critical areas if you like. Children really do have opinions and they want to share them with you."

2. Always treat your child with respect.
Children decide how they feel about themselves in large part by how their parents react to them. "So the next time your child interrupts what you're doing instead of snapping: 'Not now. Can't you see I'm busy' say, 'I'm sorry honey, I don't have time just now. Can you give me a half hour?' With children, a simple act of courtesy can go a long way."

3. Spend time having fun as a family.
"You may think they don't want to be in your company—especially teenagers—but you're wrong. Kids are interested in learning about you and spending time with you," says Newmark who suggests a family board game, movie night, or even just doing a jigsaw puzzle together. For other ideas, just ask the experts: your kids. "You may be surprised at what they come up with and their enthusiasm for the opportunity."

4. Engage your children in conversation.
"This is the main mistake parents make," says Newmark. "Recognize that every interaction is an opportunity to learn something. But you have to listen—in a genuine and focused way. Listening says, 'I care about what you have to say. You are important to me.' When we ignore them or get easily distracted when they are speaking, we are disrespecting them."

5. Emphasize the positive.
Children need more acknowledgements than put downs. When criticism is necessary, show love, not anger. "For example, if your son makes an unreasonable request, don't respond with a sarcastic, 'What are you, crazy?' Tell him you hate to disappoint but you can't allow x because it's dangerous and it's your job as a parent to keep him safe."

Being mindful of these ideas will communicate your love for your child loud and clear make her feel respected, important, secure, included, and accepted—the vital components for building healthy emotions.

Learn more about The Children's Project and How To Raise Emotionally Healthy Children.   




Interview with Gerald Newmark, Ph.D, president of the Children's Project and author of, How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children: Meeting the Five Critical Needs of Children...and Parents Too!

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry