Listening to Your Child With an Open Heart, Part 2: The Early Years – West Valley Counseling Center

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07 Feb

Listening to Your Child With an Open Heart, Part 2: The Early Years

As a Super Parent, you are a natural teacher. But even Super Parents don’t have all the answers. How can you help your children avoid the abuse of drugs and alcohol? How can you encourage your children to express their natural emotions in healthy ways?

By Teresa Lalicker, MFT, Program Director, West Valley Counseling Center.

In our first blog, Dr. Burnett said that, "The key is to create resiliency in our children from their early years onward. We do this in our parent-child relationships by paying close attention to how we listen to our kids and model for them healthy emotional expression."

How can we foster this resiliency in our children?

1.) By fostering healthy attachment in infancy.

Attentive mothering/caregiving creates a safe environment for the infant. Infants establish secure attachments when caregivers like you (mother, father, etc.) accomplish three things:

- learn to recognize your child’s verbal and nonverbal signals,
- accurately interpret those signals, and
- respond in a timely fashion and in an appropriate manner.

Let’s say that you, as a parent, have a weepy six-month-old who is in pain from teething. You respond to your child’s crying with an appropriate comment such as, “I see you are sad because your teeth are hurting you.”

What you’ve just done is called sensitive responsiveness. You responded to your child’s emotional signals in a healthy, appropriate, and positive way.

Challenge yourself to respond sensitively when your child expresses his or her emotions, and try to make sure that your responses don’t conflict with each other. Here’s an example: Hugging, kissing, and showing affection to a young child can be a sensitive response on your part, but not if it abruptly interrupts your child’s ongoing exploration and play.

Another example: If you comfort a crying child, this can also be a sensitive response from you, but not if it is accompanied with a verbal barrage criticizing the baby for being such a pain.

Securely attached infants will learn how to seek out and feel safe in healthy relationships. Then, as they grow into teens, they’ll be able to identify, express, and process their emotions in healthy ways, rather than turning to drugs and alcohol for comfort.

What’s another way that we can create emotional resiliency in our children?

2.) By teaching our children how to identify, express, and process their emotions.

We can help infants and young children identify their feelings by expressing those feelings for them. For example, you can say to your child,

“That loud noise really scared you.”
"You are angry that it’s time to go to sleep.”

If you initially “label” your children’s feelings for them, then your children will eventually learn to identify and express those feelings for themselves.

Lastly, it’s important for young children to learn how to process their own feelings and emotions. This will eventually create the ability to self-soothe.

Self-soothing occurs when your child is able to respond to his or her own emotions in a positive way. Methods of self-soothing include taking deep breaths, talking about their pain, or allowing themselves to cry.

The ability to self-soothe, in healthy ways, provides skills for our children that will make drug and alcohol use less appealing as coping mechanisms for difficult emotions.

The staff at West Valley Counseling Center provides therapy and family counseling to dozens of clients every day. In this blog series our therapists will explore how to create “valuing relationships” throughout your child’s life. We will go step by step through a child’s emotional development, giving clear descriptions with real-world examples of how to foster strong emotional relationships and help our children deal with the ups and downs of life. Look for our next blog coming soon.