There are no guarantees in parenting! You can do your best, but you won’t know for sure how your child will turn out emotionally, physically, or spiritually. However, if you parent by giving intentional input and guidance and also provide an environment of acceptance, you’ll set your children on the path towards emotional and relational health.
Children and the Basics
Children are needy when they come into the world. They have no resources outside of their parents. Parents must meet every need. As children grow up, they naturally develop their own resources. Their basic needs remain mostly the same as they mature: food, clothing, shelter, safety, security, and love. In his theory about the human hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow says all humans have the same basic needs. Parents or caregivers must meet these needs in order for a person to move through the stages of growth. Unmet needs show up as problems in a child’s physical and emotional development and growth.
Physical and Emotional Needs
Most parents understand and meet their child’s physical needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Meeting physical needs is necessary, but parenting doesn’t stop there. Parents must also meet a child’s need for love and security. This is separate from meeting physical needs.
I find that parents believe their child should feel safe, loved, and secure, even if the child actually feels otherwise. Parents with this belief feel surprised when their child is distant, unappreciative, irritable, disruptive, and unwilling to connect with them. Behaviors like these can be exhausting and painful, especially if that parent is genuinely doing everything they know to do to make their child happy but without success.
If this sounds like your situation, I can help you.
How to Meet a Child’s Emotional Needs
The concepts of attachment, attunement, and repair form the building blocks of meeting a child’s emotional needs.
Attachment: teach your child she’s not alone
Attachment is the emotional bond between two people. Secure attachment happens when the parent emotionally draws the child to them instead of pushing the child away. For example, when a parent lovingly welcomes a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child feels safe with the parent. As a result, the child trusts her parent. She also feels confident that her needs and experiences matter. Securely attached children enjoy being close to others, believe they are important, and feel confident to show their need for help. Healthy attachments result in children knowing and feeling that they are not alone. When a child knows she is not alone, she trusts her parent will comfort her with a listening ear.
When parents don’t consistently emotionally tune in to their children, children feel a lack of security. In other words, they become insecurely attached. Insecure attachments can have a long-lasting negative impact on a child’s belief in themselves, ability to trust others, and willingness to reach out for help.
“Anyone who goes too far alone. . . goes mad.”
Attachment: What the Experts Say
Leading experts in the field of child development and attachment identify four basic attachment styles between child and parent or caregiver which are listed below. Descriptions of the mind of a child by Elizabeth Pennock follow. The level of parental attunement is in parenthesis.
- Secure – “I have a secure base; therefore I can explore and grow.” (Attuned Parent)
- Avoidant – “I am alone and on my own.” (Neglect and Rejection from Parent)
- Ambivalent – “I need others, but I can’t depend on them.” (Inconsistent Attuned Parent)
- Disorganized – “At times I fall apart, so I can’t depend on myself.” (Enraged Parent)
Attunement: get on your child’s wavelength
Adam Young, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and host of The Place We Find Ourselves podcast, explains attunement simply as, “knowing what your child is feeling.” Consistent attunement between parent and child builds a strong and secure attachment.
Examples of attuned parenting:
- The child feels excited when they come home from school, and the parent asks them about their day.
- The child is unusually quiet, and the parent puts their arm around the child while sitting together.
- The child has a bad day, and the parent speaks to the child in a caring tone to show they understand.
Repair: If you mess up, make it right
Stress and other responsibilities sometimes block a parent’s awareness and ability to attune with their child. As a result, a child may feel emotionally rejected, abandoned, or hurt. This is when children need their parent to repair the relationship. Young describes repair as a parent’s ability and willingness to re-attune and re-engage with their child to right the wrong that the child experienced. Parents must expand their awareness beyond their own wants, thoughts, emotions, and personal gains. When a parent notices and validates the child’s individual experience, repair takes place. Mending relational rifts contributes to secure attachment.
Crying and Comfort
God created us for relationships. Relationships must be developed and nurtured from birth onward. Complete self-sufficiency is not possible even for adults. If a person tries to be totally independent, we would say that person has a disorder. We should not expect our children to fall without providing a healthy environment for them to get up.
By providing children with the space to fall and cry and then get picked up and comforted, parents nurture healthy attachment. Ultimately, we all want someone to see us, hear us, and validate us. Children need parents to be on their wavelength.
Humble Pie and Hope for the Future
Consider your own childhood. If you did not grow up in an emotionally safe home, you are more likely to raise your children in a way that mirrors your childhood. There is hope! Acknowledging the reality of your history doesn’t destine you to parental failure. It also doesn’t make your parent the bad guy! Accepting your history will help break generational cycles. Ineffective patterns can stop with you. Effective, healthy patterns can start with you!
You can change your parenting trajectory. Take a step toward parenting with intentionality. I help parents break persisting chokeholds on their family’s emotional and spiritual progressions with awareness and education. Let me help you. Make an appointment with Julia today!