Understanding Your Child's Emotional Backpack

Modern kids are on-the-go, shuffled about, and usually overly scheduled. This can cause the younger set to hold tighter to their emotional issues if they are not given the time, space, and a trusted adult to help them sort out any problems or challenges. Emotions such as fear, anger, resentment, worry, sadness, anxiousness, guilt, confusion, worthlessness, and jealousy can carry a magnitude of invisible burden.  As more parents increase their awareness of their child’s emotional backpack, immediate accommodations can allow children to find breathing room, relaxation, and room for healthy emotional growth. Parents can assist their child’s emotional growth through these steps:

1. Awareness vs. Denial– Many parents fear labels that could stick throughout school. Other parents may fear social changes for themselves or their child. The bottom line is this: if you don’t pursue your child’s best emotional development, probably no one else will. Families are busy; spending focused time on your child’s emotions can easily become lost in the packed schedule. But remember, your child is counting on you to be their parent, it is a role they cannot fulfill themselves. Denial of the need to become more aware is denial of the burden your child may be carrying.

2. Communication (Listening more than talking)- As parents, we tend to talk at our child much of the time, fewer times do we share “give and take conversation” that has nothing to do with who needs to go where and bring what, and even less frequently we just sit and listen to our children talk to us. Fostering dialogue with your child that asks open-ended questions can allow a glimpse into your child’s inner world. Listen more and limit questions. For every question use 3 or 4 “verbal encouragers” such as “really, tell me more, that sounds interesting, go on,” while nodding your head and full eye contact. Most importantly, steer clear of phones, computers, TV, tablets, etc. to signal your full presence.

3. Commitment to the Work of Emotional Support– Working through emotional release can be a slow process, particularly while building trust. Taking time off work or finding babysitters in order to make counseling appointments can lead to an abrupt shift in the family schedule and/or finances.  Children are watching how parents handle their issues and your reactions when they share their deeper, intense feelings. Kids hear conversations, and sense when you might feel this has become a burden of your own.  For their best emotional growth, your children need to feel they are valuable to you, particularly when they are at their weakest.

4. Be Emotionally Healthy and Strong Yourself– Similar to the flight attendants request that “in the event of emergency, please place the air mask on yourself before assisting anyone else,” parents need to be emotionally healthy in order to best support their child’s emotional work.  If parents have unresolved grief issues, it can be difficult to help their child through an unexpected loss of a friend.  Staying physically active, eating healthy, enjoying low-risk lifestyles, maintain a sleep schedule, and seeking your own counseling are important ways to become the firm foundation your child needs as an emotionally stable parent.

5. Turning to Patience First: It is vitally important to stay as calm and centered as possible, particularly when we and our children are dealing with heavy emotions.  You can increase your reserve of patience by a few suggestions:  reminders of your child’s strengths and aptitude, spending time in mini-meditations, pray or say your personal mantra, count to 10 backwards then forwards, post joyful pictures of you and your child around you or on your “wallpaper screens”, better time management to keep a slower pace.  When you want to react strongly, in your tone, words, or actions- allow yourself a split second to pause. Consider walking away for a moment, saying it only in your head rather than out loud, take a few breaths, or just say, “Right now, I am not the right moment to respond to this.” If a child feels uncomfortable or fearful of their parent’s reactions, they will turn to someone else to fill their emotional needs.

6. Ask for Help. Don’t go Alone, Use Buddy System: As we know, it takes two people to create a new life and you have probably heard the great proverb, “It takes a village to raise a family.” But many parents, particularly in our American modern culture- find themselves alone in the position to be everything to their children. This is an exhaustive role, and truly opposite to the biological and ancient social standards of how families are created and kept. It takes courage, not weakness, to turn to another and say, “We are in a tough spot- do you know who we could talk to about this?” Teachers, school counselors, mental health therapists, pediatricians, coaches, other parents, and clergy members are all excellent starting points for parents to find encouragement, support, and direction.

Annie Jung, M.A., LPCC, is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, specializing in the mental health and wellness needs of kids, teens, and families. Her private practice is located within the non-profit, Awakening Center, in Brentwood, CA. She is also a married, mother of three, and can probably be found in a carpool near you. She can be contacted at akjcounseling@yahoo.com or (925)-759-7200.