In a culture of likes, follows, instant gratification, cyberbullying, sex trafficking, and true crime documentaries in our Netflix queue just waiting to keep us up at night, keeping our kids safe seems like the highest of our priorities as parents.
We are raising kids in a world that is more scary and intimidating than lighthearted and fun; imagine how our tweens and teens must feel if we are carrying around this weight as parents. Keeping our kids safe physically can seem overwhelming so establishing emotional health can feel paralyzing and impossible.
Most days it feels like our sageest parental advice is met with an eye roll or a shrug at best, but our kids always see what we do.
So what if our youth, in their most formative years, are turning to us to model emotionally healthy behavior and we are just flailing around and grasping at both ends of a candle that’s been burned out for years?
Friend, I feel that because I live it, too.
For years I battled and buried my own emotional setbacks and negative self-talk that was destroying me in an effort to ‘do better’—whatever that means—but I found myself spiraling in am emotional dumpster fire of yoga pants and dry shampoo, and the people suffering most were those I had been trying to protect all along.
Here are some things that I had to learn, practice, fail at, and re-learn again so that I could begin setting the standard for an emotionally healthy household.
Emotionally Healthy Parents Set Appropriate Boundaries with Toxic People
We all have people in our lives that cause us frustration. It may be a parent who constantly judges, an uncle whose old-school antics teach your kids lessons that don’t align with your parenting or even a high-maintenance friend whose incessant need for attention is exhausting beyond all measure.
How to Start:
Look for the Positive
In every difficult season, there is a lesson to be learned or a positive attribute you can glean from it. Maybe you were skipped over for a well-deserved promotion at your job, but you were able to notice your resilience as you encouraged the co-worker who did get promoted.
Focus on the Facts
Maybe you were more than able to perform the tasks the promotion required, but Susan in cubicle nine has been with the company longer and she really cranked out the last marketing campaign so choose to understand feeling genuinely happy for someone else while focusing on the facts.
And, when that feels hard, remember to laugh often and find meaning. Maybe this isn’t your dream job and this single act is confirmation that you should pursue something else.
Parents with High Emotional Health Practice Their Passions
My dad always told me that if I didn’t like my boss to become my own. At the time, I put that in my mental file of crazy stuff dads say, but as I’ve grown older, it has pushed me to take big career and recreational leaps that I may never have considered otherwise.
Money may ease tension in a household or create space for more family vacation time, but it certainly isn’t buying anyone’s happiness or genuine fulfillment. So to begin modeling emotional health for our kids, we need to find one or two things that really make us happy—what’s that thing you do so well naturally that people are always asking you to do for free—and do it for money. Start an Etsy shop, sing at open mic nights, teach a weight lifting class at your local gym—whatever it is for you, do it. Right now—for fun, for your job, for a side hustle, just go.
How to Start:
Identify What Makes Your Smile
What, when you think about it, makes you smile or even laugh out loud? What would you do even if you didn’t make money for it? What is something that gives you energy?
Make a list of at least 5 things that bring you that kind of joy and then choose the one you will do this week. Yep. We’re doing this, mama!
Develop Measurable and Specific Goals
It’s not only important to have goals that are visible—think neon post-it notes on your bathroom mirror—but also to be able to measure when you’re succeeding. These will help to keep you on track when setbacks occur and motivate you to push past them.
Emotionally Healthy Parents Practice Gratitude
Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are just about as old fashioned as ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ so, in a media climate that teaches our kids to take what they want, modeling gratitude goes against the grain just enough to make waves. Our kids need to see that we not only thank others but also that we acknowledge when they—our kids—have helped out, lent a hand, or done something kind.
Noticing when our kids take a step out in kindness empowers them and reinforces these good choices. Modeling kindness and gratitude in our own lives helps us to focus on the positive.
How to Start:
Model Respect to your Spouse
No matter your family makeup—blended family, nuclear or separated household—show respect to your partner. Our kids learn how to treat others and how they will look to be treated based on how we treat those we love most. Showing respect and kindness will foster emotional health within yourself and your relationships.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Writing things down is an easy way to highlight even the smallest things that made a difference to you each day. Maybe you were complimented at work or a friend bought you lunch, write it down. Keeping track of kindness and gratitude can help you to see the positive in even unlikely situations, which can help keep your emotions from derailing when things go wrong.
Parents Whose Emotions are Healthy Act Out of Humility
We all want to raise kind kids so it is important for us to remember that they learn motives from watching us. The ‘mine, mine, mine’ attitude might have slid by when they were toddlers and learning how to share with others but now they are turning into small adults and we need to be mindful of what they are taking in at home.
How to Start:
Apologize to Your Kids
A rule that humbles a household in a hot minute is to require an apology to be as public as the offense. So if I lose my cool with my teen in front of a table of dinner guests, I need to apologize to them in the same way.
Friend, I am not going to pretend like this one is easy, but it carries heavyweight when looking to empower our kids.
Serve Others Together
Giving to others without the hope of anything in return may be one of the most incredibly powerful lessons we can ever give our children. Whether you take them to fill shoeboxes to send overseas at Christmas, serve food at your local soup kitchen, pick up trash on the side of the road, or send letters to soldiers, these little acts of kindness teach influential lessons to our teens about putting others before themselves.
Tell the Truth
Listen, sister, I am the first to admit to sneaking a white lie in about how Santa is watching or how the first to go to sleep gets a prize. But as our kids are getting into tween and teen ages, they see through a lot of that. Though they’d never admit it, they desperately crave adulthood and the independence that accompanies it.
Since we cannot possibly expect them to comprehend all of the responsibility and heavy things that come with being grown, the least we can do is afford them the courtesy of telling the truth. That means modeling honesty even when it isn’t easy.
Connection is Crucial for Emotional Health in Parents
Emotionally healthy parents connect with others outside their home in meaningful ways. Connecting with another human being is a powerful experience that enhances emotional health. If you’re a bit apprehensive about this, take heart; you don’t have to be the life of a party or even go to a party at all. (Let all the introverts say, “Amen”). Talk to people you encounter during your daily routine. Whether you meet a friend for coffee or compliment the cashier’s earring or smile, those small interactions can have profound effects.
How to Start:
Develop Healthy Coping Strategies
Even if your first inclination is to binge eat tacos or drink wine and complain to friends—I’m not here to judge—we need to make sure that we are showing our kids how to handle difficult situations with appropriate and healthy strategies.
If you aren’t sure what things may work for you, go for a walk, try meditating or breathing deeply, read a book, or dance to your favorite song. Nothing needs to be fancy, but it does need to be easy to access when a difficult season strikes.
Practice Regular Relaxation
Relaxing with kids of any age can feel overwhelming and impossible. Many of us find ourselves without the time, money, or energy to plan a spa day or a girl’s weekend. For regular relaxation that encourages emotional health, you just need five minutes—to run, to breathe, to focus, to paint your nails, or take a quick bath.
Find what works for your budget and your schedule and make a plan to fit it in.
Ask for Help
Moms struggle to reach out for help, even when we need it most. We spend our days packing lunches and doing school drop-offs, managing homework and school projects, soccer games and snack time, and we are the ones who tend to stay up with sick kids and sad days. So when we are the ones who need to call for back-up it can feel foreign.
Friend, that is why people say it takes a village. We weren’t made to do this whole thing alone so boost your emotional health by asking for a hand. Trade babysitting with a friend couple to buy yourselves a date night or trade dinner drop-offs every Friday with a sister or close friend to take a little bit of the load off. Everybody wins!
Poor emotional health affects the body and the mind—the whole person. People with poor emotional health may do things like:
- Obsess over problems
- Constantly complain or speak negatively
- Ignore obvious good that exists, including goals and values
- Feel chronically lonely and misunderstood
- Catastrophize, blow everything out of proportion and imagine the worst outcomes
- Feel self-hatred and blame
- Experience physical repercussions such as gut trouble, body aches, and headaches
- Be fatigued but have trouble sleeping
And remember, be on the lookout for changes in behavior or dips in your mood or in that of your tweens and teens. Some fluctuation can be hormonal or typical with hard days, but prolonged-expression of poor emotional health may require asking more questions.