The perfect family, the modern day ancestral enigma. It seems as though we’ve spoiled ourselves with television’s finest, offering a smile and fresh apple pie to usher in each and every day. I began to wonder, what constitutes a perfect family, perfect parent or perfect child? Being a parent and a therapist – I researched the possible answers to this, I found my eyes opening to the various kinds of families and children that exist in the world.
When recently someone posed a question to me: “Does a child need emotional love to develop properly?” Obviously after my research, the question was a no-brainer. I responded: “Of course!” How else would a child develop into a mature, grounded, secure, emotionally sound and physically healthy member of their community without emotional love?
Searching the web, there are multitudes of images that feature inspirational quotes that attest to the importance of love, even images that attest to the importance of love in regards to children. Take the Thrive Facebook page, for example. I regularly post images and quotes of these sorts, because they inspire and ignite the love I have for my own.
The question posed did spark a question of my own: What kind of love do children need in order to thrive and be adaptable in their life? Does it require being a modern day June Cleaver? As in home-cooked meals every day, a physically happy parent with a charmingly benevolent flair? Do they need an immaculate home, infinite hugs and kisses? Do they require strict discipline, in spite of unconditional love.
The answer is not a simple one, as each child’s temperament, hereditary traits, home environment, familial structure, academic success, maturation and physicality are vastly different. I don’t mean to suggest it’s an impossible question, just that there is more than one solid answer. There are multitudes of studies that offer varying results, a considerably daunting task to read and understand them all.
I’ve discovered five basic tenets that assist in emotional and healthy child development. I’ve boiled each down to a phrase for easy ingestion and memory.
1. Communicating love and encouragement.
-A child needs to feel love, showing them that you truly ENJOY spending time with him and enjoy him as an individual. This helps him feel secure, grounded and able to branch out into healthy friendships and relationships. It is essential for a child to learn this in their formative years in order to learn communication and trust building, key elements in the emotional part of child development.
Without these, children are more likely to become withdrawn and lonely in social situations.
2. Fulfilling needs and sparking curiosity.
-Attachment principles teach us that a large portion of children and adults are only as needy as their unmet needs. When emotional needs are met early on in life, the more independent (with a healthy dose of daring) they become. The necessary ability for a child to step out into the world on their own, stems from the knowledge that there is a caregiver whom they can rely upon and return to. This starts during infant-hood and continues throughout adulthood, where the concept transfers over to married life, the way one interacts with one’s spouse. A child or teen’s healthy exploratory drive is stimulated or stifled by the secure base they’ve received from their parents. This secure “home base” can help to offset the normal throes of rebellion that have become overwhelmingly evident in teenagers and children in modern times. (Attached, A. Levine M.D., R. Heller M.A.).
3. Availability and its importance.
4. Happiness is a warm one!
-Although happiness is said to come from within, studies show that a warm relationship between parent and child can regulate the child’s psychological and emotional well-being. Their physical proximity and availability influence the stress response. Our children’s basic biology is influenced by our connection to them, a great example being the hormone Oxytocin. This hormone increases in the brain when a child has experienced a sufficiently pleasant and trusting familial structure. Proper oxytocin levels help a brain to retain information, form patterns and cope with stress and pain, among other things. Mothers holding their infants, singing or talking to them and building an early trust relationship have all shown to increase levels of oxytocin. Developing trust, attachment and social distance as one grows are directly influenced by this hormone as well. Studies have even shown that children shuttled through the foster system or late adoption show a lack of oxytocin, which often signifies a lifelong lack of trust in building relationships, high anxiety and addiction.
5. Consistency is key.
-Consistency creates an environment where children feel safe and secure. This is important, for when a child’s environment changes, their brain changes with it. With constant flux, the brain and even the body of a child does not have the ‘biological safety’ to grow, and continues with a fight or flight response that prevents the human growth hormone from doing its work. For instance, when there is inadequate stimuli for an infant, including safety and trust which can be hindered by continuous change in setting and routine, it directly affects the child from a biological AND psychological perspective. Consistency can be introduced through scheduled meals, clean laundry, time for warmth, engagement and conversation, and setting limits. Establishing boundaries is necessary for this, as it instills an early routine of personal responsibility that will follow through to adulthood.
It doesn’t take perfection, or even the warm apple pie (though I’m sure your child wouldn’t mind one every once in a while). Parenting is an honor that includes mess, noise, and a definite challenge. With information, we become stronger, wiser and more capable of raising children into functioning, caring, positive, contributing adults of the world. We shouldn’t strive for June Cleaver status, we should strive to be the best WE can be, whoever you are.