Healthy Emotional Behavior Starts in Childhood

February 28, 2024

Help Children Develop a Healthy Relationship With Their Emotions

Learning to manage our emotions is one of the keys to a healthy life; it can help reduce stress by giving us more control over our lives.

For parents and their children, that process should start at a young age so kids have the tools to manage their own emotional responses when they grow up.

Emotional Well-Being is a Lifelong Journey That Starts Early

Children begin experiencing emotions in the first three years of life. During this time, they are also learning how to express uncomfortable and positive emotions

But since their brains are still developing, they lack the cognitive function to process and manage those emotions.

That’s where parents step in.

“Uncomfortable emotions don’t go away,” said Dr. Laura Li, a pediatrician at Mount Auburn Pediatrics. “If they get stuffed back in a box, our brains are going to deal with them somehow. That’s why it’s very important to start understanding and acknowledging emotions from childhood.”

Letting Children Feel Their Emotions Makes Them More Understandable

Rather than punishing children for having tantrums (or giving in to their demands), parents should create some space to let them feel their emotions. 

This will help them learn that their emotions (particularly uncomfortable ones like anger or disappointment) are part of life and that there are helpful ways to cope with them.

Once they’ve established that foundation, Dr. Li said, “it’s about giving them the tools to communicate and showing them what methods may work faster for others to understand what they want or feel.”

Children Will Copy Healthy – And Unhealthy – Emotional Behavior

Children are sponges; they model their behavior on that of their parents. If a parent yells when upset, their child will learn to respond in the same way.

“One thing I always talk with parents about is making sure they’re in touch with their own emotions,” said Susan Betjemann, a pediatric clinical social worker at Mount Auburn Pediatrics. “[An outburst from a parent] can trigger big outbursts from their kids.”

If parents do have an outburst, she says, they should talk to their kids about it and relay that they are also trying to find better ways to express their feelings. It’s important for parents to model that they can identify what didn't work, why it didn't work, and what they will do differently in the future.

Sometimes Families Need Support from a Behavioral Therapist

While most relationships will experience friction at times, as Betjemann and Dr. Li told us, when children are acting out on a daily basis and interactions with parents are no longer positive, outside support from a behavioral therapist might be helpful.

“Our job is to get the parent and the child to come together as a team to figure out how they can both improve in communicating,” said Dr. Li.

It’s important for parents to remember that therapy is not meant to be a long-term solution; it’s one step in a much bigger process. If successful, though, it can lead to a stronger, more rewarding relationship between parent and child.

Visit our page to learn more, and call 857-666-7337 to schedule an appointment.