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When I was younger and thought of being a parent, I had a much more simplified view of what that would mean in reality. Fast-forward to present times, and I realized that parenting is a very complex job, filled with many responsibilities; perhaps the most important responsibility we have is addressing our child’s emotional needs properly.

Children are born into the world helpless and dependent on us. Their first instincts are to seek out security, comfort, love, and of course, food. Even their need for food is an emotional need based on their drive for security and comfort-all of which they depend on us to provide.

Depending on how we address these needs as our child grows from an infant into a toddler, from a toddler into a child, and from a child into a teen, will either make or break our child. Their mental health and emotional intelligence are in our hands. I know that sounds extremely daunting- but it’s best to face reality here and acknowledge the importance of our role in our children’s lives. Below, I have listed the 6 emotional needs of a child that influence their mental health.

1. Attention.

When your child is begging you to look at them, to talk to them, to acknowledge them constantly – it can be stressful. However, it’s important to realize that they aren’t doing this to be annoying or manipulative. They are doing this because they NEED your attention. The attention you give them is what helps them to build their self-image, and helps them bond with you.

2. Understanding.

Your child needs to know that you understand them so that they can learn to trust you. By understanding them, you can help them through their struggles and help them to learn to overcome obstacles. However, if you shut them down when they try to talk to you-they are going to feel like you don’t understand them, and will no longer feel as though they can lean on you.

3. Structure.

If you grew up in a strict family, it may be tempting to be a more permissive parent. And while you don’t need to be super strict like your family, a little structure is needed. The structure shows children what their limits are. It defines the boundaries they have and gives them well-defined rules. Without this, children will always feel like they are on shaky ground. And they will be anxious.

4. Expressed love.

Your child needs to know how much you love them. Children tend to base their self-worth on how much love they are shown, and when you are emotionally guarded with your child, you are setting the stage for low self-esteem to take over.

5. Validation.

When your little one comes to you crying and upset because they lost their favorite $2 toy, you might think that it’s silly. But to them, it’s a big deal. When your child comes to you crying, you might want to stop the crying (to help them) by saying, “Stop crying, it’s not that bad,” but when you do this, you are invalidating your little one. Emotional invalidation teaches kids that emotions are to be avoided at all costs and are bad. This can lead to emotional repression, which can lead to addiction, acting out, and other emotionally immature behaviors.

6. Inclusion.

Your little one wants to feel like part of the family. They want to be included, and they want to feel like they belong. To feel included, they need to be included. By giving them small chores as they grow, you are providing them with a sense of feeling needed. It might sound odd, but this is absolutely an emotional need.