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11 Tips for Understanding Your Child's Emotional Development

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One of the most important things that you, as a parent, can do  is to understand your child’s feelings and wonder about the meaning of their behavior. No, you need not get a ‘degree’ in parenting. What you will want to take time, though, is to recognize the unique qualities your child brings with them from the moment of birth — what makes them laugh or cry, and what motivates or upsets them.

Here, MomJunction explains to you about a child’s emotional development and gives tips to understand what’s going on in your child’s mind.

Need For Understanding Your Child’s Experience

Parents often understandably look to answers to solve problems. But research shows that simply being curious about the meaning of your child’s behavior helps them to regulate their big emotions, think flexibly, and manage social situations. While you may sometimes not understand the meaning of your child’s behavior, simply wondering rather than misinterpreting and jumping to conclusions can be helpful. Parents play a key role in a child’s emotional development.

Some basic knowledge about emotional development can help parents contribute meaningfully towards the child’s emotional growth.

Tips To Understand Your Child’s Emotional Experience

Parenting is more than just providing comforts for your children. It is being there for the child emotionally, and providing them a sense of security. Here are a few basic child psychology tips that will help you understand children better:

1. Observation Is Key

One of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to learn about your child’s experience is careful observation. Show interest in what your children are doing or saying. Observe their actions, expressions, and temperament. Keep in mind that each child is unique. Your child will be different from you and their siblings. Do ask yourself a few questions that can help you understand your child’s psychology.

  • What does your child like to do the most?
  • How do they react when they have to do something they do not like, such as eating certain foods, going to bed, or doing homework?
  • How social are they? Are they willing to share or try new things?
  • How long is your child taking to become familiar with their surroundings? Are they  able to adjust to the changes in the environment?

While you answer these questions, remember not to judge the child. Just observe to be aware.

2. Spend ‘Quality’ Time With Your Children

Parents today are busy juggling work and home. Multi-tasking, as they call it, allows them to take care of many things at a time, one of the ‘things’ being the child. If you have been spending time with your kid in this fashion, it is time for a change. If you want to understand your children, you need to make time for them.

  • Conversations with your children let you know what’s happening in their life at school and home, what their favorite music or TV show is, and what gets them excited and what doesn’t.
  • Quality time needn’t always mean talking or doing something together. Sometimes you can just sit together and silently observe them to gather some insights about their experience.

 3. Children benefit from focused attention

Even if only for short periods of time, it can be helpful to focus your full attention on being with and listening to your child. You may spend lots of time with them while doing other tasks such as cooking dinner and driving them to school. This time is important too. But even 10 minutes of “special time” can go a long way towards creating a positive home environment and building your relationship with your child.

If possible, aim to have activities that allow you to spend time exclusively with each child. When you give undivided attention to your child they feel safe and validated and are more likely to open up to you.

4. Be Mindful of Your Child’s Environment

Research has shown that a child’s behavior and attitudes are shaped significantly by the environment in which they are raised (1). The home environment can affect a child’s brain development, which in turn affects the development of his language and cognitive skills (2).

Your child’s behavior is influenced by the people that are around them and the quality of interactions. Take time to gauge the kind of ambiance that has been created at home and at school.

5. Have a basic knowledge of brain development

The brain grows in relationships. Some child development researchers refer to parents as “neuroarchitects.” When children interact with a caregiver who is focused on them, it helps connections between brain cells to grow. The brain is shaped by the experiences that the child has, and this in turn impacts how he responds to different situations.

Positive interactions can influence the brain’s growth to facilitate development in a healthy way. Conversely, adverse experiences such as an environment of constant fighting or emotional neglect can have a negative impact on the development of the brain. According to Daniel J. Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, you can help your children build a solid foundation for a healthy social and emotional life, and enable them to handle difficult situations,with a basic understanding of the brain’s functions.

6. Listen

Listening is important when you have a conversation with your child. You may initiate a conversation to get your child talking, but then make an effort to listen to what they are trying to say. Kids may not be able to express themselves clearly, which is why it is helpful to  pay attention to the words that they use and their non-verbal cues as well.

Focus on:

  • Tone, the way they stress a word or phrase.
  • Expressions, which tell you how they feel. Try to gauge their emotions when they speak about something to understand if they like it, if they are afraid of it ,or if they are stressed about it.
  • Body language, watch out for eye-contact, how they use their hands and the posture.

Not only should you listen, but also let your child know that they are being heard and taken seriously. Acknowledge what they say and respond to let them know that you are trying to understand what they say. If you don’t understand, ask questions for clarity. But be careful not to talk too much or ask too many questions, as that can shut communication off.

7. Children express emotions in different ways

Besides talking, children express their feelings through activities.

  • If your children love to draw, write, or act, encourage them to do that more often.  Attending an art or painting classes can  help them express themselves better. Your child may choose to keep a  journal in which they can write about what they did on a given day and how they felt about it. The more your child writes or draws, the better they get at expressing themselves.
  • Show interest in their artwork but take care not to over-interpret or you may end up displacing your emotions as theirs. If you misunderstand their work, take time to work through the misunderstanding. 

8. Ask Questions that Encourage Communication

If you want your child to share their intentions, certain kinds of questions can help. Instead of asking “Do you like this song?”, which warrants either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, ask “What do you think about this song?”, which will offer an opening for your child to say more.

While you may not have an answer to questions your child raises, brushing away a child’s question as silly can discourage them from asking any questions in future.

9. Educate Yourself About Child Development

Some understanding of child development gathered from books or professionals can be useful. But always remember that you are the expert with regards to your child. A culture of excessive parenting advice can undermine a parent’s natural expertise.

 10. Show Empathy

When you take your child’s feelings seriously while letting them know that you may not have the exact same feelings, you help them to take ownership of their emotional experience. For example, a toddler may have a meltdown because they cannot find their red sippy cup but must instead use the green one.

Their powerful feelings come from a sense of helplessness and frustration. While you do not have the same feelings and may think the difference is insignificant, taking their feelings seriously while setting limits on their behavior shows them that you have respect for their perspective.

11. Understand your child’s temperament

Each child has a unique set of qualities and ways of interacting with the world. Some are more likely to be flexible while others are comfortable with routine. Some are cuddly while  others are extremely sensitive to different forms of sensory input. Children have different ways of handling transitions and change. Starting from birth, taking time to notice your child’s particular way of being in the world can support their healthy development.

Take The Challenge

Understanding your child’s emotional development takes time and effort. If you have more than one child each one will be different. While having a consistent parenting style can be helpful and reassuring for all of your children, flexibility according to each individual child’s unique temperament is important. The time and care you take to understand your child’s emotional experience will serve to nurture them to develop into a healthy adult.


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What do you do to read your child’s mind? Let us know here.

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