Mothers and fathers should help their young children develop authentic self-esteem by celebrating children’s actions and avoiding effusive praise. Encourage girls and boys to serve others, not only to interrupt their solipsistic mindset, but also to strengthen their ability to make a difference. Then, encourage them to develop an interest that isn’t related to school or college applications, like cooking or knitting. Engaging in intrinsic interest protects children’s sense of self-worth. Finally, get into these activities before a child reaches middle school, when even the healthiest child could falter.
The next best thing parents can do is help their children learn to both express and regulate their emotions. Articulating painful feelings robs feelings of their power, and learning to manage them restores children’s self-control.
To encourage free expression, listen, advises Damour. Be curious about your child’s state of mind. Ask your child to be as verbally specific as possible. Then repeat what your child says in their moment of grief or fear to demonstrate that you really understand. Once they’ve expressed their heartbreak, try to capture their pain in a one-sentence summary — like the editor creating a title for a story — and show empathy in return. “Listening attentively and then offering empathy shows them that they are doing exactly the right thing when they seek relief by finding a loving listener (that would be us!) and sharing their thoughts,” Damour writes. Above all, defy the temptation to jump in with creative solutions, no matter how irresistible that may seem.
For the teen who resists face-to-face conversations, try other ways to invite communication. Some kids will respond to sweet text messages from their parents. Others will be more talkative if they are strapped into the backseat of the car, spared the discomfort of direct eye contact. And if parents want their teens to talk, they may need to be there more often for that to happen. when children talk. Although they can be mercurial and obnoxious, teenagers generally love their parents and feel more secure when they know where the adults are. Another way to invite emotional expression: own up to your own mistakes. For example, if you chatted with a friend about something personal that your child shared with you and they learn about it, correct your gaffe in the right way: apologize for violating their trust, explain why you did it, take responsibility, vow never to blather again, offer to make amends, and ask for forgiveness. Because emotional expression is so critical to adolescent (and adult) well-being, parents need to maintain their children’s trust.
After exhausting their efforts to stimulate expression, parents can help children learn to self-regulate. Suggest a distraction to interrupt unpleasant rumination. Offer them small comforts adapted to their preferences. Check their sleeping habits and help them recover the eight to ten hours they need. When offering advice, be careful: ask if it is wanted and discuss solutions together.