How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children
Studies have shown time and time again that codependency has learned tendencies and behaviors that get passed down from generation to generation within families. If one or both parents in a family unit are codependent, it takes a great deal of self-awareness and conscious effort on the parent’s part to prevent codependency-related thinking and behaviors from being transmitted. If not prevented, codependency can inhibit development of healthy, independently functioning individuals. Codependent patterning occurs in a parent’s responses to their children and if transmitted throughout a child’s upbringing, must be unlearned by the child in order to restore the ability for adult growth.
Much like addiction, first problem to overcome when addressing codependency within a family unit is identifying and facing denial. Most parents are unaware of their codependent quality and unwittingly teach their children the same characteristics despite their best intentions. The best way to begin changing deeply engrained codependent behaviors is to start by assessing and improving your communication and own sense of self-esteem.
Main symptoms of codependency include:
- Not acknowledging or minimizing feelings, wants, and needs
- Non-assertive communication
- Poor self-esteem / self-worth
- Being overly focused on a specific family member or certain circumstance
- Having poor boundaries
- An overly strong need for control
Children first begin to develop their own sense of identity and personal values through communicating their feelings and needs within interactions with their parents. Therefore, how you communicate in return with your children during this stage of development is crucial to the formation of their identity. It also contributes to their sense of self and self-esteem.
Main traits of healthy families that foster independent, functional adults include:
- Free expression of thoughts, emotions, and observations
- Healthy communication
- Equality and fairness regardless of “status”
- Nurturing and supportive interactions
- Reasonable rules and healthy boundaries
- Cooperation and problem solving among members
As a parent, there are several practices you can begin to adopt to help your children grow into independent and confident adults. Here are seven key practices you can start today:
- Show Your Children Respect: Displays of respect signal to others that we are taking them seriously and we are truly listening, which in return lets them know that who they are and what they think is accepted, understood, and has merit and worth in our eyes. We do not have to agree with or placate our children, but we want them to know that they voice has value. Avoiding criticism and setting limits is critical to encouraging positive self-esteem. When you treat your children with respect, they learn to treat others with respect, making their future relationships and interactions more conducive of success and fulfillment.
- Accept Your Children’s Feelings: Many children grow up with the perspective that they were not allowed to express certain emotions within their family units. This typically carries into their adult relationships and proves problematic in forming a satisfying social life and interpersonal intimacy. This can often lead to social anxieties and depression. Rather than trying to talk your children out of how they feel, allow them to express their feelings in a healthy outlet. Their feelings don’t need to be rational nor are do they need you to “fix” them. This doesn’t mean that you need to allow your children to freely act on their emotions, but rather ensure they know that they are being heard and understood.
- Nurture Your Children: Children cannot be given too much love or too much understanding. What they can be given is too much freedom, too little rules and boundaries, and too much substitution for actual empathy and affection by way of gifts, money, etc.
- Provide Predictable and Reasonable Rules & Expectations: Learned codependent behaviors are often developed within environments with either no rules and expectations, ones that are too rigid and harsh, or with rules and expectations that are arbitrary and inconsistent. Children need safety, fairness, and predictability in their environments. Not having these qualities at homes typically leads to anger, anxiousness, and a general distrust in parents which will often translate to other authority figures.
- Allow Age-Appropriate Decisions, Responsibility, and Independence: Codependent adults typically have difficulty with making their own decisions and being interdependent within their relationships. Problems solving and decision-making skills can best be learned and supported in childhood. Age-appropriate decision making encourages independence and age-appropriate limits encourage self-control. Children require a certain extent of freedom to make mistakes so they can learn to take responsibility of them and learn from these experiences.
- Allow for Freedom of Information: One of the main characteristics of any healthy collective of individuals, whether it is a family or an entire country and anything in between, is the freedom to express thoughts and observations without fear of judgment, criticism, or denial. Dysfunctional families often practice secret keeping or rules around what is and is not acceptable to talk about. Children are naturally inquisitive and need to explore their own understandings and perceptions of the world around them. This is healthy and should be encouraged.
- Respect Your Children’s Boundaries: The most fundamental way to respect your children’s boundaries is to respect their thoughts and feelings. Verbal abuse, criticism, and correction can violate their boundaries and discourage them from recognizing and honoring their internal workings.