Parents typically consult a pediatrician to learn about their child’s
Right? We want to make sure our child is eating independently, walking, and talking as expected, not actually transforming into the zabra dinosaur alien they were pretending to be yesterday. But a young child’s mental health can go unmeasured easily. How they are thinking, processing, and reacting to events and people is pretty invisible to us until they say something or react with an obvious emotion or cry. It’s easy to assume their psychological foundations are strong.
You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating: events that occur in early childhood lay the basis for emotional and social development. Because babies are all brand new and everything, it’s important that we keep an awareness about how we help them receive, translate and use their first impressions and experiences. Every child is different, even and maybe, especially from their parents. An event that seems trivial to us as adults can confuse them and if they don’t have anyone guiding them through it, the unresolvedness can affect them in ways that promote insecurity.
If something adverse or atypical happens during your day, like a homeless person lying on the street, or two people visibly upset and arguing, be prepared to speak to your child about it. Try not to overreact or cover up what happened. That’s an easy way to confuse your child because, well, they’re smart. And they know that there’s something you don’t want them to know about. To help your child observe the world as it comes to them:
Describe the event objectively without adding opinions
Ask them what they thought about it
Ask them how it made them feel
Explain why the event happened
Ask them if they have questions after you explained it
Encourage them to ask you anything if they see something they don’t understand
Here are examples of how a conversation would go:
Did you see the man sleeping on the sidewalk? Yes.
What did you think about that? I saw that yesterday.
Oh ok, how did it make you feel? I don’t know.
Sometimes, people lose their job or their money and don’t have a place to live. So they sleep on the street until they find a new home. Sometimes the city also offers them space in special buildings with food. Oh, OK.
Those people must have been talking about something upsetting.
Sometimes people end up talking about something important and they raise their voices and have big feelings and they don’t realize that everyone can hear them.
It’s best to just continue on our way, without looking at them so they can have their privacy.
We try to wait until we are in private to talk about upsetting things, but sometimes we can’t wait.
Do you have any questions or feelings about it?
Sometimes the thoughts and feelings are so big when people are upset, have you ever had big feelings like that?
Just let me know if you see something upsetting or strange when we’re walking around, OK?
We can talk about it and try to understand it together.
Sometimes the only thing we can do is try to see what people are feeling.
Instead of making these talks a big to-do, try implementing them daily. At the end of the day, you can prompt these types of exchanges:
Hello, how did your day go?
What did you do?
How did it make you feel?
I had a busy day and it made me feel tired sometimes, but I took a deep breath and felt better.
Did you have fun?
Tell me about it.
Having a daily check-in will make a habit of communicating and expressing ourselves, however simply. Difficult thoughts and feelings can be hard to express, especially for someone with such a small emotional toolkit. But after you model how to express your feelings and questions, they will follow that example. Open communication, empathy, and compassion can be shown to our children every day with the things we say and how we describe the world. Because by listening to you and watching you conduct your life, they are given a template. And of course, they’ll build on it to make it their own. So let’s leave them good instructions.