Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids
Parents, are we raising emotionally healthy children?
It's a tough question. It's tough because it’s introspective; it makes us evaluate our own selves, our own parenting, and its effects on our children.
I’ll be the first one to tell you that I don’t want others snooping around in my business, evaluating how well or how bad I’m doing. But, the Bible is clear: I need that kind of evaluation on lots of things (Heb. 3:12; 1 Cor. 5:12-13).
So, back to the question: Are we raising emotionally healthy children? It’s a question that parents must grapple with and sit with. It’s a question we must answer if we want to be good parents who honor the Lord with our parenting.
We must wrestle with this question because something significant has changed from the time we were kids until now, when our kids are kids. It’s a change that is unprecedented in history and its roots are in technology. Our kids have access to technology in ways that we would not have dreamed about when we were young; but, it's their whole world today. And it's having a profound effect on their physical and emotional well-being.
In her little book, Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids, writer and counselor Eliza Huie helps parents think through the question in depth, and from multiple gospel angles.
Huie writes, “Children today face emotional struggles at earlier ages and at deeper levels than any other generation. Many of the struggles they commonly face were not issues when their parents were growing up. While their parents did experience emotional challenges as kids, anxiety, depression, addiction, identity struggles, and general mental health issues were problems of adulthood not childhood.” (pg. 15)
So, parents, perhaps you are now aware (if you weren’t already) that we have to take this question seriously. Our kids are growing up in an incredibly challenging world. We have the responsibility of raising our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), and each generation must do the work of understanding the things of God and working to apply them specifically in the lives of their children.
Huie’s book is short and incredibly accessible (for those of you who struggle to read, its 94 pages long and more like a booklet in size). She breaks the book down in 6 parenting tips regarding emotionally healthy kids.
Tip 1 - Nurture them Wholly.
Parenting is not a spectator sport. It cannot be done from the sidelines, nor can it be done in snapshots and small increments. Parenting is a whole-life activity, and God has designed it so that our whole life rubs up against the whole life of our kids (as long as they're in our homes). Huie writes, “Parents must attend to the whole life of the child” (22).
It won’t do to just restrict technology, or forbid certain friendships, etc. Parenting means a holistic approach to the child’s holistic well-being.
Tip 2 - Understand their Capacity.
This tip was helpful for me because I tend to talk with and treat my children like their fully grown adults at times. It can be especially challenging in my house with my 10 year old because he is so developed in vocabulary, I will catch myself conversing with him at an adult level, beyond his rational ability.
In this chapter, Huie overviews developmental traits of children as they grow and mature from birth through early adulthood, and she offers parents helpful guidance on how to understand our kids at each stage, and how to most effectively engage with them.
Tip 3 - Regard their Feelings.
This is a big one! A lot of times parents, if we’re honest, we run roughshod over our kids' feelings. When they disobey, when they’re throwing a temper tantrum, we just flat out don’t care how they feel. But Huie notes that one of the ways parents can care for the emotional well-being of their children is to appropriately regard your child’s feelings (47).
She helpfully connects this to the heart of Jesus, Who sought to understand the heart and emotions of His people without ever affirming their sin or leaving them without correction and guidance.
Tip 4 - Cultivate Lasting Hope.
“The world in which children are growing up is full of uncertainties and challenges. Children are bombarded with negative messages and fear inducing news from the internet and social media” (57). Kids today, she notes, spend an enormous amount of time on their phones or in front of a screen. Kids between the ages of 8-12 spend roughly 5 hours/day, and teenagers are spending between 7-9 hours per day on screen media (60).
This is one of the main reasons, Huie notes, that kids today are suffering far more mental health related crises than you and I did. We didn't have smartphones; we didn't have social media.
So, what’s the solution? It's not sheltering them from every bad thing. Huie helpfully points out that parents can care for their children’s emotional well-being by instilling true hope: The hope of our constant love, and more importantly, the true and unfading gospel hope of Jesus Christ.
Tip 5 - Attend to Yourself.
Again, this is big. Parents, we cannot expect to raise emotionally healthy kids if we are emotionally unhealthy ourselves. We can only give what we already have. “Emotionally healthy children are often the product of emotionally healthy parents…your emotional health matters to your child’s well-being” (68).
Are you part of a healthy local church, parent? Are you regularly under the right teaching of God’s Word? Are you being watched over and discipled by faithful Elders and fellow church members?
In this chapter, Huie offers parents 10 points of evaluation to see if we are emotionally healthy or not.
Our emotional health matters more than we know to our kids.
Tip 6 - Know When to Get Help.
Children today are struggling. They are struggling with real issues that can have serious, if not deadly consequences. In this chapter, Huie offers some warning signs on when to get help for your child. A mental health crisis is defined as, “any time that your child is no longer safe to himself or others is when there is a need for immediate action” (77). There are times when this will be true, but there are other less severe signs to be on the lookout for as well.
Huie goes over the physical, emotional, and relational signs that parents should be on the lookout for with their children. And then she helpfully guides parents through what to do in the event outside help is needed.
Conclusion: Buy the book. Read the book.
My wife and I are in the thick of parenting. Our kids are 10, 7, and 4. And we homeschool. We do that for convictional reasons, but it means that we are around our kids All.The.Time. So, we have lots of opportunities for all the emotions.
One thing we have noticed is that when our kids have access to technology, they tend to behave more poorly, tempers get shorter, disobedience goes up, and they don’t sleep well. So, we have made the decision that we limit technology. Our kids have access to our TV (with permission), and they have shows they are allowed to watch (with permission). But, we have removed tablets and other technologies, and we have no plans to introduce smartphones anytime soon, if ever.
These are decisions every parent must wrestle with and make.
-Get the book and read it.
Discuss it with your spouse. Pray through it asking God for wisdom, guidance, and help. And then put it into practice.