Have you ever been checking the parenting boxes and later realized you missed the big picture? You know, like the emotional needs of a child. I totally have. Just last week I was hurriedly getting my daughter ready for the day ahead. I handed her shoes to put on while I worked on getting her hair in a ponytail. She was excitedly chatting away, probably telling me some story she had told me the day before. I nodded my head and made the obligatory “mhm” and “oh yeah” comments, but I was more focused on scrolling the to-do list in my head. I heard her tiny voice speaking, but I wasn’t really listening to a word she said—and she knew it. “Mommy! You’re not even listening!”
I was taking care of her by meeting her physical needs, but I was completely neglecting an emotional one. Sure, her hair looked cute, but she didn’t feel heard by me. I immediately thought about how hurtful it is when I can tell someone’s ignoring me while I’m talking. That was my wake-up call. I thought to myself, “How often do I brush off her emotional needs just to get on with our day?” Unfortunately, it happens more often than I’d like to admit. What about you? Whether your kid is 4 or 14, here are 9 emotional needs of a child that we need to be nurturing.
Although it’s important to listen to our children when they talk with us, it’s just as important that we try to understand them—where they’re coming from, what they’re trying to say, and how it makes them feel. We can do this by asking questions and actively engaging with them as they talk to us.
A simple “what do you mean when you say ____” goes a long way to making them feel heard and understood. If you want a cool visual tool that will help you go deeper with your child, download our free feelings wheel.
2. Respect them.
Every person deserves to be respected—even kids. This doesn’t mean we need to put our kids on a pedestal, but that we should simply follow the golden rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” We can be polite, considerate, and honest with our kids and still have firm boundaries with them.
You can show your kids respect in simple ways like not interrupting when they speak and asking for their opinion when you make the grocery list for the week.
3. Accept them.
Some emotional needs of a child are more complicated than others. This is one of them. Kids long to feel accepted by others and seek that out in all sorts of ways, some dangerous. We don’t have to accept all their decisions and behaviors, but we do need to make it clear that we accept who they are—and so does God.
One way to show acceptance is by spending time with them. Take your child out to lunch with no agenda or lecture waiting in the wings.
4. Love them unconditionally.
Although unconditional love seems like a no-brainer here, it’s quite easy for us to unknowingly place conditions on our love for our children. When our children are misbehaving and we react by sending them away or ignoring them, they may feel unloved in those moments and believe our love for them is conditional on their behavior.
Never withhold an “I love you” because of your child’s behavior.
5. Give them a safe space.
All kids need somewhere they feel welcomed, safe, and protected. For most kids, this place is at home. This space is physical, like having a warm bed and ownership over toys and clothing, but it’s also a safe emotional space.
That comes by allowing them to share whatever thoughts and feelings they have without judgment or ridicule.
6. Give them some control.
Just like adults, kids of all ages want to feel like they are in some control of their lives. We should allow them to take control of things they can reasonably be held responsible for.
Allow your preschooler to independently pack his or her lunchbox with different options you provide or give your teen a chance to negotiate the weekend curfew.
7. Support them.
Kids want to know that their parents have their backs no matter what. Just like when we held their hands as they toddled their first steps, our kids want to know we will always be there to support them in whatever they’re doing.
Walk with your kids in the things they do. Drive them to rehearsals, attend their games, and hang their artwork on the fridge.
8. Value them.
Everyone wants to feel important, and most people feel important when they’re valued. If we don’t value our kids because they don’t bring a paycheck into the home or have the intellectual ability to help solve problems, we’re telling them that worth is based on what people can provide instead of who they are intrinsically and that’s a slippery slope.
Show your children you value them by recognizing their efforts, asking for their input, welcoming their help, and respecting their boundaries.
9. Grant them some freedom.
Allowing little tastes of freedom when we can is one of the essential emotional needs of a child. The action of granting freedom tells a child, “You have the responsibility to obey, but the option not to.” This helps them exercise their conscience, make good decisions, and experience natural consequences.
If they’re at an appropriate age, allow them to play outside unsupervised or stay home by themselves for a few hours.
What is one way you can grant your child a little extra freedom this week?