All parents want the best for their children. If you ask any mother or father what they hope for their child’s future, they’ll say things like they want them to be happy, healthy, and successful. Despite those good intentions, unfortunately, parents can also pass down negative behaviors like anxiety, anger, and insecurity even if they don’t mean to.
All parents must remember that our children are always watching us. Every move, action, and response we make is often mimicked by our children, especially at a young age when they have nothing to compare that behavior to.
How can you make sure you are modeling the very best behavior possible for your kids to help them form their own healthy emotional responses in life? Here are 10 tips that have helped many of my patients and I’m sure they can help you, too.
1. Think before you react. This can take practice as sometimes it’s easy to react almost immediately, but try to think about your reactions and the consequences of those reactions because your children are always watching. Even those little sighs, mumbles, and eye rolls are very noticeable to the little ones.
2. Take a break. If you feel you are having a momentary breakdown of anxiety, anger, or some sort of insecure or negative behavior, walk away for a moment and regain your composure. Come back to the room when you are feeling better and your emotions aren’t getting the best of you.
3. Label your feelings. Make sure your children know that it is OK to feel sad, scared, or overwhelmed. Our emotions are a part of being human. What’s not OK is when we let our emotions consume us in unhealthy ways. Labeling what you are feeling can help improve your sense of self-awareness. Once you start labeling your emotions, you develop a sense of understanding that helps you regain control.
4. Work through your fears. If children see their parents avoiding things because they are afraid, they are going to think it’s OK to skip out on activities because of their own fears. It’s OK to be honest with your children and let them know you are scared, but they must see you try to face the fear rather than running away from it. This will encourage them to face their own fears throughout life.
5. Rethink anxiety. Often times, anxiety can really narrow your view. Instead of focusing on negativity or threats, try to look at the big picture. Will this even matter in a year or two? Are the circumstances really that bad? Remember that anticipatory anxiety is often worse than real anxiety.
6. When you act in a negative way that doesn’t set the best example for your kids, tell them. Say something like, “Mommy or Daddy overreacted and worried too much about this or that. How I should have handled this situation was to…”
7. Give your kids freedom based on age. It’s understandable that at an early age you would set boundaries such as only letting them ride their bicycle a certain distance, but as they grow older, expand those rules. Let them slowly build their independence and confidence.
8. Accept the fact that your children are going to make mistakes and get hurt. Every parent wants the best for their kids and wants to protect them, but you have to let go and let your children learn by making mistakes. The best thing you can do is let them make mistakes and then teach them to dust themselves off and come back from those mistakes.
9. Welcome conversations and teach acceptance to help your children cope with their feelings. You want them to feel comfortable that they come to you about how they are feeling. When kids have a sense of trust and solid relationship with their parents, it helps them excel and work through their emotions at any age.
10. Practice relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and meditation to calm your own emotional reactions, and teach these skills to your children as they grow up and are able to understand them. These skills will help them throughout life.
Trying to incorporate all of these tips at once would probably be overwhelming, but pick the ones that resonate most with you and give them a shot. Your negative reactions to events will get better in time, and this will have tremendous benefits for your children’s emotional health as well.
Vinay Saranga M.D. is a child psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry.