I n this column, we’ve spent the last year talking much about our favorite subject — young children and their developing brains. We’ve taken a magnifying glass to a range of issues parents face in the early years of their children’s lives, from soothing separation anxiety and talking about emotions to encouraging language development and fostering empathy. In 2015’s final month, we’d like to step back and take a wide-angle look at the simple idea at the core of everything we do: healthy social and emotional development. While it might sound like science, it’s really just life. And as a parent, you can do great work by simply being there for your child.
The Outside and the Inside
When young people leave home to begin their lives as adults, they need to be ready for a world filled with other individuals and differing points of view. With a healthy social foundation, your child will know how to interact with others because he or she will have the ability to consider and understand another person’s ideas and motivations and deliver the appropriate response to the behavior they experience.
It’s a two-step process: first is understanding; then, calculating a response. The same can be said for one’s emotional health. Young people need to be able to navigate the complex internal world we all possess. Our lives are filled with triumphant highs and dismal lows, frustrating barriers and hard-earned victories. People who are emotionally grounded can handle those daily ups and downs. This doesn’t mean stalwart composure through the darkest times or stone-faced humility at success. It means the highs don’t corrupt and the lows don’t destroy the psyche. First, your child must understand his own emotions, then he can calculate a response.
We’re not seeking robotic perfection from our children, nor do we propose a clinically precise series of lessons for all parents to employ. Getting the most out of our time actively parenting our kids really is mostly about being present and practicing real communication.
Talking Through It
Talk to your kids, not at your kids. Ask about their school day with specific, open-ended questions. How did the frog dissection go? What did you learn about frogs? Did you have more trouble with your mean friend today? Why do you think she gets so angry? What makes you angry?
Read together. Share board books with your baby, read storybooks to your toddler, share Wind and the Willows and Neversink with your school-age kids. Have family reading time. Talk about the books you enjoy. Ask specifics about the book your child is reading and discuss plots, characters, and outcomes.
Play together. Build a zoo with Legos. Draw a mastodon under the Overton bike arch. Guess what your preschooler has created. Craft a nose out of Play-Doh and wear it. Dress up in tutus and tiaras, ninja PJs and Batman cowls. Run around the backyard, be playful — get on your child’s level.
Finally, be present. Discuss daily activities you see and do together. If you engage with your child often and help him interpret the world, your kid will be ready for anything.