The emotional needs of a child
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The Emotional Needs of a Child and How to Raise an Emotionally Healthy Child

Learn about the emotional needs of a child and how you can help raise an emotionally healthy child.

The emotional needs a child may not be as obvious as their physical or cognitive needs, but they are just as vital for their development.

Children often have unique emotional needs that can depend on a variety of factors including family dynamics, social environment, and individual personality. Generally speaking, children need a sense of safety and security, love, acceptance, and respect.

They need to feel that their feelings and opinions matter and that they are valued. They also need to be able to express their feelings and have healthy outlets for their emotions.

It is also important for children to have a sense of belonging and be able to connect with others.

Finally, being able to depend on adults and trust that they will be there for them is an essential emotional need for children.

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The Emotional Needs of a Child

A child's emotional needs are complex and vary from individual to individual. Generally, they need to feel safe and secure, accepted, respected, and loved. They also need to feel that they have a sense of belonging, that their opinion is valued, and that they can express themselves openly and honestly. Providing a supportive and caring environment is key to meeting these emotional needs.

mom hugging child

What are the Emotional Needs of a Child?

Children have a wide range of emotional needs that require nurturing and support from adults.

These needs include:

Security

Child want to feel secure and safe. This helps develop trust from a secure attachment.

Love and Belonging

Children need to feel connected and loved by their parents, caregivers, and peers.

Self-Esteem

Positive reinforcement and encouragement help to build a child’s self-esteem and self-worth.

Self-Expression

Allowing children to express themselves in a safe and healthy way encourages creativity and emotional development.

Learning

Children need to be able to learn and explore their surroundings in order to develop their understanding of the world.

Children also want to feel capable, respected, heard, understood, empowered, valued, special, connected to others and included.

Meeting these emotional needs can help children develop healthy self-esteem, self-confidence, and secure attachments as they grow and mature.

The Benefits of Developing Emotional Skills for Children

Developing emotional skills in children is essential for their overall well-being, self-esteem, and social skills. Emotional skills help children understand how to express their feelings, identify and manage their emotions, and build relationships.

Having strong emotional skills can help children navigate social situations, build strong relationships with family and peers, and better understand how their actions affect others.

It can also help children develop resilience, problem-solving skills, and the ability to cope with stress. Overall, emotional skills can help children become more confident and capable adults.

You can learn more about the emotional stages of development here.

Emotional Needs of a Child

Tips for Raising Emotionally Healthy children

Here are some simple and actionable tips you can use to help raise an emotionally healthy child.

Provide lots of love and support and show your children that you love them unconditionally.

Does your child know that they are lovable, exactly as they are? That they aren't expected to be perfect? That their anger, disappointment, frustration and sadness are just part of being human, and that they can count on you to help them learn to manage those feelings so they don't have to act on them? That they don't have to be, or do, anything in particular to earn our love? 

You may be wondering how you teach your child those things. The answer is easy, but oh so difficult. You love them unconditionally. Even — especially — when they are driving you crazy.

Listen and be empathetic to your children’s feelings

Showing empathy involves understanding what your child is going through. It can be hard to show empathy when you are frustrated about a situation. Acknowledging and valuing your child's feelings is a powerful way to connect.

Model emotional regulation and healthy coping skills

Show your child what emotions look like. You can do this during every day conversations with them or during play. You can use real life photos and cartoon photos that interest your child. Label the emotion that you are feeling and explain it to your child. Help your child to identify and label their emotions with these hands on learning activities.

“Children who manage their own emotions well and who respond appropriately to the emotions of others will be more successful in their interactions with their peers.”

Jennifer Grisham, Mary Louise Hemmeter, & Kristie Pretti-Frontczak

Set boundaries and consistent rules

People talk a lot about the need for “boundaries,” but what does this word really mean? As a parent, you can think of a boundary as the line you draw around yourself to define where you end and where your child begins. This isn’t always easy. And let’s face it, kids push the boundaries every day, all the time. They are wired to test us and see how far they can go; it’s in their nature.

We can set boundaries by clearly defining our principles, staying in our role as a parent, and sticking to our bottom lines.

Teach your children about their emotions

A great way to help kids learn about feelings is to discuss how characters in books or TV shows may feel. Pause to ask, “How do you think he feels right now?” Then, discuss the various feelings the character may be experiencing and the reasons why. Talking about other people's feelings also teaches empathy. Label your emotions and your child's emotions during every day activities.

Get your Free Emotions Cards for Kids Printable to Help Teach your Child to Identify Emotions

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Emotions cards for kids

Give your children the freedom to express their emotions

Be a role model – Kids learn about feelings and how to express them appropriately by watching others. Show your child how you're feeling about different situations and how you deal with those feelings. 

Help your children develop communication and problem-solving skills

Whether it’s a toy-related conflict, a tough math equation, or negative peer pressure, kids of ALL ages face problems and challenges on a daily basis.

As parents or teachers, we can’t always be there to solve every problem for our children. In fact, this isn’t our job. Our job is to TEACH our children how to solve problems by themselves. This way, they can become confident, independent, and successful individuals.

Instead of giving up or getting frustrated when they encounter a challenge, kids with problem-solving skills manage their emotions, think creatively, and persist until they find a solution. Naturally, these abilities go hand-in-hand with a growth mindset.

Spend quality time with your children

Spending quality time with your child is a great way to show your are interested in them and they are valued and loved.

  • Have a daily “connect” time with your child.
  • Create a special ritual for you and your child—something that can be done every day.
  • Tell your child you love them every day.
  • Make and eat meals with your children whenever possible. This will allow you an opportunity to talk with them about their day.

Spend time outdoors and engage in physical activities

Spending time outdoors isn’t just enjoyable — it’s also necessary. Many researchers agree that kids who play outside are happier, better at paying attention and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors.

Spending time in nature can build their confidence. There’s a lot less structure than most types of indoor play and they can choose how they interact with the nature around them. This gives them practice managing their own actions and encourages creativity and imagination.

Encourage your children to be independent

Young children love to do things for themselves — even when it makes life harder for their parents. 

Learning to follow routines is one way for little kids to become more independent. Like coming home from school: jacket off, then shoes, hang up backpack, wash hands. Let kids start to do parts of the routine by themselves, like unzipping their coat. Eventually, they’ll be able to do the whole routine alone.

Respect and accept your children’s differences

Have open discussions with your child to help him or her understand and respect the differences among all people and also mention the similarities people share. You can celebrate their differences and teach your child about empathy. You can also unlearn your own biases. Have open ended conversations with your child about their differences and the differences of others.

Foster creativity and self-expression

Be your child's biggest fan. Encourage and praise them for being an individual. Don't judge. Make sure your child feels comfortable and unrestrained when they are exploring their interest and talents. You can help them express themselves through art, dance, sining, or any creative way they would want to express themselves.

child drawing on paper

Promote healthy social interaction

You can model healthy social interactions for your child with your daily life as a family, but also out in public. When you go to the grocery store, bank, post office, or gas station. You can also help teach your child social skills during play time, with siblings, and during play dates with friends.

Provide opportunities for your children to give back

Show your child how you can give back to others. You can help them learn how to donate toys they no longer play with, donate food to a food pantry, or volunteer their time to help others.

Teach your children about healthy relationships

Demonstrate healthy relationships with your daily interactions with your family, friends, or strangers. Demonstrate kindness and being polite and they will learn from those interactions.

Help your children build self-esteem

Kids who feel good about themselves have the confidence to try new things. They are more likely to try their best. They feel proud of what they can do. Self-esteem helps kids cope with mistakes. It helps kids try again, even if they fail at first. As a result, self-esteem helps kids do better at school, at home, and with friends.

Talk to your children about their feelings

Make time during the day and in your daily interactions with your children to talk about how they are feeling. Demonstrating healthy conversations about feelings and emotions will better allow your child to openly talk and communicate about their feelings as they get older.

child upset and frustrated

Create a safe environment for your children

Create a safe home environment for your child to learn and grow. If they feel safe at home and with you they will have more confidence to be themselves.

Guide and support your children in developing their values

Help your child develop values that will help them grow in life and are meaningful to them. Demonstrate good values yourself and help teach your child your family values and routines.

Be mindful of your own emotional health

You're emotional and mental health has a big impact on your child. Make sure to check in with yourself and make sure you are taking care of your mental health. If you are needing extra support I highly suggest going to therapy and talking with your doctor to get the help you need for your own mental health.

Allow your children to make mistakes and that it is okay to fail

Help your child realize that they don't need to be perfect and that mistakes are okay and a learning process. You can learn from your mistakes and that everyone makes mistakes.

Encourage your children to take risks

When your child can get out of their comfort zone and have you there to help guide them, they will have more opportunities to learn and grow from those experiences.

Challenge your children’s thinking

Help your child learn to think for themselves by asking them open ended questions and coming up with solutions to their problems. If you are always giving them the answers they won't be able to learn how to think for themselves.

Help your children develop a positive attitude

Help your child develop a positive attitude about themselves and their body image. Make sure you model appropriate self talk and positive phrases about your self so your child can understand how to do this.

Encourage self-care for your children

Demonstrate self-care opportunities for your child and knowing how important it is to take care of yourself. Allow opportunities for them to have down time and rest time to recharge. Help them come up with activates that help them feel good about themselves. You could also do some of your self care routines with your child. You could go on walks together, have dance parties, or take a bath together.

child hugging mom

Show your children the importance of empathy

When you get the opportunities talk to your child about how others might feel in different situations. Talk to them about how their words and actions can have a powerful impact on others. Demonstrate having empathy for others in your daily life interactions.

Nurture your children’s curiosity and passion

Helping your child develop their passions and staying curious can greatly help them in life. They will be able to explore different passions as they get older and want to stay curious and learn new things.

Be a positive role model for your children. Show them how to express their emotions in healthy ways.

Demonstrate what healthy emotional regulation skills look like in the daily life. I know this can be extremely hard and challenging depending on the age of your children and how much they need you. Develop positive coping strategies and calm down techniques to help your child understand what they can do when they have big emotions.

Spend special time with your children. Listen to them and show them you care about them.

Make sure to spend 10-20 minutes of special time with each of. your children every day. This shows them that you care about them and want to be with them. Don't be distracted by your phone or the television. Allow your child to direct what they choose to do with your with child directed play.

Acknowledge your children’s feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel them.

Let your child know that it is okay to feel big feelings or whatever they are feeling in the moment. Try not to minimize or shame them for their emotions. Let them know it okay to feel sad, mad, frustrated, etc… Be there for them in those moments and let them know they can count on you to be there for them and to help keep them safe with these big emotions.

Show your children how to express their feelings in constructive ways, such as through music, art, or writing.

You could demonstrate how to express their feelings through activities such as art, music, or writing.

Teach your children how to be assertive and how to stand up for themselves in a respectful way.

Teach your child to stand up for themselves, but in a respectful way. You can demonstrate this for them when you are out in public or at home.

Help your children to establish healthy boundaries and to make good decisions.

Help teach your child what healthy boundaries look like with family, friends, and strangers. Encourage and demonstrate healthy boundaries with your family, friends, and co-workers. Talk about the importance of making good decisions and how that can impact your child.

Teach your children how to resolve conflicts and handle disagreements in constructive ways.

Demonstrate healthy conflict resolution in front of your child so they can see how to do this in their every day life. They will better be able to handle conflict with siblings, friends, or parents. Help them in situations when they may be struggling to handle conflict so they can learn from you.

Show your children how to be kind and compassionate to others.

Demonstrate kindness and compassion in all of your interactions with others especially with your family. Teach them the importance of being kind and compassionate towards others.

Share your own experiences and feelings with your children so they can learn from them.

Openly share and communicate your feelings and emotions with your child. For example if you are getting frustrated that your child isn't cleaning up their toys, you can say that out loud to them. “I feel frustrated whenever you leave your toys out because I don't want to step on your legos and hurt my feet.” Practice I statements with your child where you can practice how you are feeling and you can have your child practice I statements as well. Today I feel ________ because _______________.

Get your FREE Emotions Check-In Poster to help your child learn Today I Feel Statements

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Feelings Check-In Poster

Monitor your children’s media use and talk to them about how to handle online content responsibly.

Help keep your child safe with online content and with using streaming devices. Know what your child is watching and that it is appropriate for their age. Help them by setting up boundaries or safe spaces so they know how to stay safe with their media use.

Books to Help you Meet the Emotional Needs of a Child

The Emotionally Healthy Child: Helping Children Calm, Center, and Make Smarter Choices

The Emotionally Healthy Child: Helping Children Calm, Center, and Make Smarter Choices by Maureen Healy

While growing up has never been easy, today's world undeniably presents kids and their parents with unprecedented challenges. She has become an expert on teaching skills that address the high sensitivity, big emotions, and hyper energy she herself experienced. Three simple steps are key – Stop, Calm, and Make a Smart Choice. While not always easy, these steps are powerful and Healy shows listeners exactly how to implement them. Children move from acting out or shutting down, experiencing frequent physical symptoms such as head and stomach aches or hurting themselves or others, to recognizing they are being triggered, feeling their emotions, and using strategies to respond from a calmer place. 

The Mindful Parenting Handbook: Understanding Your Child's Emotions & Learning To Listen: The Mindful Parenting Handbook: A Guide To Present Parenting

The Mindful Parenting Handbook: Understanding Your Child's Emotions & Learning To Listen: The Mindful Parenting Handbook: A Guide To Present Parenting by Emma J. Benson

In the first place, practicing mindfulness involves forgiving yourself. Specifically, it means forgiving your body for having emotional reactions to stressful situations. Now more than ever, we are adjusting to paradigm shifts and alarming global events in real time. And if those things are affecting us, they’re likely also affecting our kids.

An adult will always have more wisdom than a child. But children also have to manage stressful changes in their body from puberty and the emotional toll of transitioning through life.  Practicing mindfulness can help you become the parent your kids need you to be.

Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent is Sick

Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent is Sick by Paula Rauch

This book covers how you can address children's concerns when a parent is seriously ill, how to determine how children with different temperaments are really feeling and how to draw them out, ways to ensure the child's financial and emotional security and reassure the child that he or she will be taken care of.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham

Based on the latest research on brain development and extensive clinical experience with parents, Dr. Laura Markham’s approach is as simple as it is effective. Her message: Fostering emotional connection with your child creates real and lasting change. When you have that vital connection, you don’t need to threaten, nag, plead, bribe—or even punish.

This remarkable guide will help parents better understand their own emotions—and get them in check—so they can parent with healthy limits, empathy, and clear communication to raise a self-disciplined child. Step-by-step examples give solutions and kid-tested phrasing for parents of toddlers right through the elementary years.

Additional Resources to Support your Child's Emotional Needs

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
www.aacap.org

Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
www.ffcmh.org

Even More Ideas to Help Meet the Emotional Needs of a Child

Free Printable Feelings Chart to Help Preschoolers Identify and Learn about Emotions

Feelings and Emotions Activities for Preschoolers to Learn to Identify Emotions

Emotions Activities to Help Toddlers and Preschoolers Explore Feelings

Fun and Simple Playdough Faces Activity to Teach Kids Emotions

Emotions Cards for Kids

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