As parents, providing your child with proper nutrition and an excellent education is a good start. However, our modern lifestyle has too much emphasis on bringing up the next child prodigy who will excel in either sports, studies, or even better, both! This situation often leads to a sad lack of concern on two other aspects that are very important but also frequently overlooked – namely his social skills and emotional well-being. Both of these aspects are equally important as they will serve him well once he is an adult.
Parenthood is no easy task, and new information often surfaces that may make you doubt your approach to parenting. However, all is not lost – just bear in mind that the core of parenting is love and affection, which is what your child mainly needs from you.
Read on to learn more about how you can raise a socially and emotionally balanced child.
In the Beginning…
by Dr Rajini Sarvananthan, Consultant Developmental Paediatrician.
Starting right from your child’s birth, the most important relationships that he will form will start with you and any others (family members and/or caregivers) that he is in close contact with. It is these relationships that will shape his social and emotional development as he grows. The basis of any relationship is interaction, and you will need to find ways to communicate and spend quality time with him. This facilitates and strengthens your relationship, allowing for a deeper bond between you.
Bear in mind that babies are social creatures who want and need to spend a lot of time interacting with you. It’s perfectly natural for him to try ‘talking’ with you by babbling or with facial expressions and gestures. You can show him that you love and care for him by responding in kind as this will allow him to learn about communication, behaviour and emotions. At the same time, you will also provide him with feelings of safety and security while strengthening your relationship with him.
Learning by watching
Your relationships with other people will also influence your child’s development. He is constantly observing what you are doing, and he will try to emulate the way that you act with other people (e.g. your spouse, family members, friends and caregivers). He will essentially copy how you act and react with others, so it is important to provide him with a positive environment in order to set the right tone for his development.
To begin building on your relationship with him, you must ensure that you are always there to support and encourage him. Being there is essential as it will give him the confidence to explore his world. As he grows and develops you will want to keep these five key points in mind (the first four will still be valid even once he is an adult), namely:
- Love him unconditionally – shower him with your love and affection. Don’t forget to support and accept him as he is. Don’t be shy to show him physical affection and spend quality one-on-one time together. This will go a long way toward boosting his self-confidence and emotional stability.
- Allow him to make his own decision – start by treating him with respect and encourage him to be independent. Let him make his own choices whenever possible that is within reason (e.g. “Do you want to play ball or bubbles?”) – this will help him to grow into a self-sufficient and self-reliant adult.
- Health is wealth – as much as possible, be a role model for a healthy lifestyle (e.g. proper nutrition, regular exercise, limit the use of electronics and gadgets etc.) so that he will emulate you. With rising statistics for noncommunicable diseases (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, etc.) it is becoming more and more important to get children started on living a healthy lifestyle from young.
- Safety – when he is under your care, always take the necessary precautions to protect him while allowing him to explore the world. As he grows, don’t just shield him from dangers; teach him about what he needs to know in order to protect himself. As much as possible, be aware of his activities and his circle of friends, but don’t intrude unless he invites you to.
- Managing behaviour positively – a carrot works better than a stick – focus on using positive reinforcement and use punishments only when all else fails. You should also direct your attention on the behaviour. An important point to remember is that any type of punishment should NEVER be physical.
Grow with your child
As he grows into toddlerhood and beyond, you will need to expand your repertoire of social/emotional skills as well. Here are some tips to help you mould a well-rounded child:
- Focus on strengths. Avoid the temptation to criticise! Find something praise-worthy to talk about and from there, talk about what can be improved without being patronising.
- Fair consequences for misbehaving. Be careful not to set punishments when you are angry, it will only undermine your position if it is not enforced, or if you relent and stop it later. For instance, if he draws on the walls, get him to do the clean-up himself (you may need to supervise); but be warned, if he finds the clean-up to be fun, he might do it again! Repeat offenders may need additional consequences such as loss of some TV time for the day.
- Don’t humiliate or mock him. Using labels (e.g. “Are you stupid?!”) and making unfair criticisms or sarcasm can make him feel bad, and if done often enough, it will cause him to lose his self-confidence. Over time, it may also cause a rift in your relationship.
- Let him solve problems on his own. As long as it does not impact his safety, resist the urge to take over. Let him work things out. You can encourage him along by asking him questions or giving him hints. Remember, kids learn by doing and making mistakes, so if you take over every time he hits a wall, it will not help him in the long run.
- Be willing to apologise. If the error was on your part, apologise and calmly tell him what you meant. This shows him that there is nothing wrong with admitting you were at fault, and also what to do if he is ever in that position himself.
Your child’s sense of self is important
In order to raise a well-rounded child, you will also need to help him build his self-esteem. This will become important once your child starts school, as he will be more engaged in learning if he feels valued and respected. This is the basis for social and emotional learning, which in a nutshell means that he will acquire the skills to recognise and manage his emotions, show care and concern for others. He will also grow into a responsible adult who will have positive relationships and handle challenging situations effectively.
There are basically five core areas that need to be addressed, namely:
Work with your child to help him identify and recognise emotions. Don’t be afraid to have intimate talks with him to explore his thoughts and/or feelings and above all, don’t be judgemental! You will also need to work closely with him to recognise his strengths and to find out what his needs and values are. Encourage him to keep a journal as a means for him to increase his selfawareness and self-reflection.
This involves impulse control, stress management, and self-motivation and discipline. Other soft skills he will need include goal setting and organisational skills. Prior to this however, you will need to teach him how to handle his emotions so that they help rather than hinder whatever he is working on. One method is to use “self-talk” to encourage himself – he should be his own best friend and NOT his worst critic. He should also learn what makes him angry and upset, and learn how to deal with them.
You will need to guide him to learn how to see from another person’s perspective. Teach him to appreciate diversity, and to empathise with and respect others. Make it a point to get him to encourage his friends to share their points of view on issues with him. He should find every opportunity to cooperate and engage with his peers in collaborative activities (games, discussions, etc.)
Teach him how to communicate effectively; this is the basis for building any kind of relationship, and to work/collaborate effectively with others. Negotiation and conflict management skills are also important and you should also teach him how to say no.
Responsible Decision Making:
In order to make a ‘good’ decision, he will need to learn how to identify potential problems and analyse a situation. Above all else, he must also learn how to be responsible for any decisions he has made.
Your Response is What Moulds Him
As parents, how you respond to your child’s needs or demands will shape how he perceives and reacts to the world. Children have five basic emotional needs in life, namely the need to be respected, to feel important, to be accepted, to be included and to feel secure. When these needs are met, it provides him with a stable platform for success in life, such as academic, work, and marriage/relationships. On the other hand, failing to recognise and satisfy his needs will have a detrimental effect on him and his future.
Need to Feel Respected
All children need to feel respected, and your child is no exception. For this to happen, you should treat him in a courteous manner. Be thoughtful, attentive and civil mannered when you deal with him, just like how you would treat any other person. How better to teach your child about respect than to accord him the same?
In order for this to happen, you will need to be cautious of your own behaviour toward him and others in general. This includes avoiding sarcastic comments that belittle, cutting down on yelling, learning to control your anger and impatience, never stooping to lies, listening more and talking less, giving fewer orders (instead, use more suggestions/requests), and never forgetting your ‘magic words’ (please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry).
Need to Feel Important
To feel important helps your child to validate his sense of worth. He needs to be reassured that you value him, to feel useful, in essence, to be somebody. As parents, you need to know when to let them do things on their own. You don’t have to be super dad/mom and solve every problem, make every decision, do all the work, or control everything that happens with regard to your child.
Let him be involved! Ask him for his opinions, give him things to do, and allow him to share in decision makings (e.g. where the next family vacation will be). The final say will still be yours to make, but including him gives him status and recognition. This allows him to develop a sense of value in a constructive manner.
Need to Feel Accepted
Your child needs to feel accepted as his own person – he is unique and should be treated as such. He has a right to his own feelings and opinions. Never fall into the trap of trivializing, ignoring, or ridiculing his feelings or opinions as this is a form of rejection that will damage your relationship with him. You don’t have to agree with everything he has to say, but pay attention to him when he airs his views. You can always discuss them together and this will bring a sense of camaraderie into your relationship, thus strengthening it.
Need to Feel Included
As a part of the family, your child needs to feel included. He needs to feel like part of what goes on in daily life and be connected. Make it a point to experience things together as a family in a meaningful way by creating these opportunities for him. You will find that at the end of the day, your family ties will become stronger. It can be something as simple as washing a car together, a picnic or a family outing where everyone has fun together.
Need to Feel Secure
Lastly, your child needs to feel a sense of security. Create a positive environment where you show him that you care for each other, allow him to express himself and be heard, accept any differences/disagreements he may have and resolve them constructively, and provide him with equal opportunity to actively participate in the family (e.g. making plans, decision-making, problem-solving and any family activities).