How to improve your child’s emotional wellbeing
Children often experience all sorts of negative feelings like anger, resentment, loneliness, sadness, disappointment, withdrawal and many more. Although these feelings are a normal part of being a human and we all experience them at times, it is important to help our children not to get stuck in them for prolonged periods. To do that we simply need to create an environment where meaningful interactions with our children are possible. These interactions not only improve and deepen family relationships and help combat the negative feelings, but they also provide a lot of learning opportunities for the children.
How do I create that environment?
The simplest way to create meaningful interactions is by showing genuine interest in your child’s interests.
A child’s basic need is to have an adult they admire to be interested in who they are and what they enjoy doing. This is an essential ingredient that helps establish a good foundation for development of emotion regulation and social maturity.
The interest of the parent needs to be genuine, enthusiastic and proactive, and the best way to show their interest and engage meaningfully with child is through play.
What are the benefits of play?
Although it is imperative to teach children over time to express how they feel and to recognise the emotions they are experiencing in a normal dialogue, some children may struggle to express their feelings through normal words at times. This may be due to the lack of vocabulary or feelings like shame, guilt, fear or anxiety.
Play helps reduce the anxiety and provides a medium for expression of feelings in a less confrontational way.
Play creates special moments between a child and their parent. During these moments energy and emotions are shared, which deepens the connection between the two and provides a source of enjoyment and affection.
Play gives the parent an opportunity to get to know the child better and who they really are. Children’s strengths and likes will be clearly visible, and in the long run this information can be used to help the child work out what profession they would like to enter as an adult.
Interactive play is an essential element in development of social maturity in children.
K. Barish makes a good point in equating the importance of interactive play to children’s social development to the importance of talking to their vocabulary and exercise to their physical development.
During play children learn to deal with negative emotions like disappointment, frustration, anxiety etc. They learn that they are a normal part of life but don’t have to stay here forever and can be managed.
Play teaches about rules and limits and acceptance of thereof. Children like to push the boundaries at all times but play time gives an opportunity to display the consequences of going too far. Children also like to tease others, so play can be used to teach empathy, self-restraint and limits of hurtful behaviour to others. During play children learn how to work with others more harmoniously, self-regulate and express themselves better.
Play is excellent for the development of imagination, creativity and problem solving either individually or together as a team.
As a result of play, connection with the parent they love and admire and the learning the play offers children, they may be more willing to cooperate with daily chores and tasks.
Play can even be used as an incentive to complete the chores prior to playing.
How do we play?
A lot of parents are too caught up in their work, providing for the family, doing their daily chores. By doing that they do a lot for the children but not with the children and play becomes a weekend activity at best.
Some parents encourage children to play independently either due to lack of time or simply believing that self-sufficiency is more important than interactive play.
Although there are benefits to independent play, the importance of playing with children should not be underestimated. Playing together is what provides the learning, connection, expression etc I have mentioned above.
Playing should happen daily, be it even 10 minutes each day. Keeping it regular makes the child look forward to that special time and improves their mood overall during the day.
All children look forward to the opportunity to show off what they can do and what they know and unless they are deeply withdrawn, they will welcome play time.
Playing can take different forms from board games, physical activities, cooking, building, creating things, painting, imaginative play, sharing interests and stories, to looking at card collections or favourite YouTube videos and video games.
Letting your child take the lead and show you what they are interested in and how they would like to play is paramount. It doesn’t mean you cannot suggest types of games you could play but they need to be in the area of your child’s interest.
Even if you find yourself stuck at the office all day, you can look up something interesting about your child’s interest online and share it with them later.
Play time cannot be replaced by screen time. Screen time is essentially a lost opportunity for social interaction, connection and learning.
All of the social skills I have previously mentioned are developed and strengthened over time, therefore requiring consistent and ongoing meaningful interactions through play and connection.
The absence of those interactions not only reduces the learning but also leads to a feeling of sadness, disappointment followed by resentment and withdrawal.
So go get playing with your child now!
I hope that you found my article helpful and if you need help with parenting or any other challenge you may be facing, feel free to reach out to me here. I would be delighted to help!
Some ideas and concepts for this article were gathered from “How to be a better child therapist” by Kenneth Barish.