Emotional Health for Kids - Whose Job is it?

Emotional health doesn't just happen by itself.
Emotional health doesn't just happen by itself.

True or False?

Children between the ages of 3 and 12 years are in the prime learning stages for vital life skills. We know that if we start early, we can teach them to read, write, and do math before they enter kindergarten. Since we want them to be successful in life, we often start them in athletics, dancing, and music as well. But are these things really what is most important?

Suicide statistics tell us otherwise. Headlines scream about college coeds taking their lives in their dormitory rooms, unable to see themselves as anything but a miserable failure. Teens end their lives because they can't make the grade or have suffered from a failed relationship. Even young children are committing suicide because they are friendless or bullied by their peers.

Emotional health is the glue that holds our lives together. It affects everything that we do, have and are. Our ability to understand, manage, and change our emotions gives us the foundation we need to make wise decisions, plan for our future, and have quality relationships with others. We must ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Where does emotional health come from?
  • How can it be fostered and nurtured?
  • Who is responsible for the emotional health of children?
  • What happens when public institutions become involved?

Family is not an important thing. It's everything.

— Michael J. Fox

Where does emotional health come from?

Emotional health begins long before children enter the public school system. It starts with the bond of trust we establish when they are infants in our arms. Every action we take to see that their needs are met reinforces their feelings of self-worth.

This core concept of identity becomes the foundation of emotional health. It sends the message to the child that they are important and their needs will be met. Children are dependent upon us as their parents or caregivers for every aspect of their development. We are their window to the world. What we say and do gives them a pattern for how they live. If we are patient and kind, and teach them the things that they need to know, they will treat others the same way.

Emotional health consists of the following five core skills:

  • Problem solving - working through a problem
  • Conflict resolution - solving a disagreement
  • Communication - sending and receiving messages
  • Resilience - bouncing back after a difficulty
  • Resource management - making wise choices for the future

Children learn these skills through experience and practice. Our job is to facilitate the process. As we do so, both we and our children experience a wide range of positive and negative emotions. Emotional health is preserved when we identify our emotions, understand where they are coming from, and take the steps needed to resolve them in positive ways.

Children must be taught!
Children must be taught!

How can emotional health be fostered and nurtured?

Emotional health is fostered and nurtured as children learn the skills necessary for them to be successful in life. As human beings, we are born with agency, or the power to choose. The sooner we give children those experiences that help them to develop and use their agency wisely, the sooner we give them the tools they need.

From the time children are able to communicate with sound and action, we give them choices and allow them to experience consequences. It is in making choices and experiencing their consequences that emotions come to the forefront.

When they do, we guide and direct our children in how best to resolve the presenting issue. We give the emotion a name and talk about where it came from. We teach proper expression of the emotion, and how our thoughts and choices affect it. We impose consequences as needed to help children choose appropriately.

The table below gives examples of choices we can extend to our children:

Age of Child
Choices to Offer
Age 0-2
Flavors, colors, and numbers.
Age 3-4
Textures, shapes, and sounds.
Age 5-6
Friends, activities, and equipment.
Age 7-8
Style, mode of delivery, and frequency
Age 9-10
Places, menus, and transportation.
Age 11-12
Quantity, quality, and effort.
Age 13-14
Earning, learning, and structure.
Age 15-16
Planning, preparing, and marketing.
Age 17-18
Education and job placement.

If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.

— Barbara Colorose
When we understand the hierarchy, we are able to respect the process. Influence works from both the outside in and the inside out.
When we understand the hierarchy, we are able to respect the process. Influence works from both the outside in and the inside out. | Source

Who is responsible for the emotional health of children?

Children are our future. We cannot stand idly by when we see a child in pain without doing something about it. There is, however, a hierarchy of responsibility that must be understood.

Emotional health is established first in the family, and when crises occur, it is the family that is most drastically affected. Changes due to accidents, illness, death, divorce, and natural disasters affect the functioning of the family.

Oftentimes, it is the extended family that steps in, providing support and strength while the family heals. Communities also come forward, rallying around their own. Churches, schools, and non-profit organizations reach out to individuals, helping them to see that in God's eyes, we are all family, and that no one is exempt.

After a crisis, the knowledge that we are all children of God and that he loves us unconditionally enables us to find home base once again. We re-establish the feelings of trust and camaraderie that remind us of home, and feel grounded enough that we can move forward with our lives.

When we look around us, there are many who are floundering. They have either lost their emotional health due to difficult circumstances or never had it in the first place. As we reach out to them and share that unconditional love that God has given us, we help those who are hurting make the choices necessary to put solid ground underneath them. Like Matthew West sings in his song, "Do Something," we can all make a difference.

What happens when public institutions become involved?

There are many risk factors in our modern world that have lead to a dearth of individual emotional health, including the following:

  • decline in two parent households
  • increased sexual activity among youth
  • spiritual apathy
  • abuse of spouse and offspring
  • dependence upon technology
  • decrease in morality in the media

This has lead to a shift in the way public schools are being viewed and utilized by communities, states, and the nation. In previous generations, the focus was on teaching children the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Now, since all children are expected to be a part of the public school system, they are being used as a clearing house for the institution of social reform.

Schools are expected to see that children are literate, as well as receive preventative education in the areas of nutrition, exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, recycling, and now emotional health. Although this preventative education can and may be helpful, it does not ultimately solve the problem.

Wise parents and caregivers become partners with the public school in the education of their children. The strength and support provided for the student when home and school personnel partner together gives a dramatic advantage to the learning process. Children come to school ready to learn and the things they bring home with them are talked about and acted upon.

The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.

— Ezra T. Benson

What can we do?

The key to emotional health is grounding our identity in the unconditional love of God, and making those choices that keep us close to him. In doing so, we give ourselves a resource to help us work through the problems of life more successfully.

Ultimately, it is our individual responsibility to establish and maintain our own emotional health, and that of those in our immediate households. Schools, churches, communities and governments provide awareness and resources that supplement our education, but they will never take the place of what happens in the homes of the people.

Every one of us can do something to help the children in our world. The time that we take with each child individually, reassuring them that they are loved, and teaching them how to make better choices will have a direct impact on their future.

When the time comes that they are faced with a life or death situation, and the siren of suicide sounds in their ears, perhaps they will choose to live because we have helped them at some point along the way.

Help a child today, for your emotional health, and theirs!

©2015 by Denise W. Anderson. For more information on emotional health, see www.denisewa.com.

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20 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

A great article. Wow how can we stress how important this is? You provided great insight and a very good message that we should all heed.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

I couldn't agree more, Denise. I watched a decline of emotional health in the schools as a teacher. My career spanned from 1978 to 2010, and in that time it was very noticeable. You are correct in that this all starts in the family. Of course there are other factors to consider, but a stable and nurturing family is the cornerstone of emotional health. Great article.


NatNat34 profile image

NatNat34 16 months ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

My opinion: Should start in the household and complimented in all aspects of the community...it takes a village......but this is utopia


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 16 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

We cannot stress it enough, Eric! That is why I am on the bandwagon! I appreciate your positive encouragement!


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 16 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

It is good to hear it from someone who has been there, Bill. Yes, there are many factors to consider. There are no easy answers. Sometimes, I fear that people do nothing because they think that the problem is just too complex. Unfortunately, that leaves the rest of us to pick up the slack! I appreciate your comments!


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 16 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

You are right, Nat, in an "ideal world" families are priority number one. We don't live in that ideal world, though, we live in a world where families are becoming the exception rather than the rule. It would be easy to throw up our hands and say that there is nothing we can do and just watch the world self-destruct. For me, that is not an option. Thanks for your comments!


MGWriter profile image

MGWriter 16 months ago from Western Washington State

It is always interesting for me to consider the differences in children's learning core skills depending on the birth or family station. Child #1 is at one plateau and child #2 is at another when they become adults. I really appreciate your discussion of all factors entering into the process, not just Mom and Dad.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 16 months ago from Nashville Tn.

The family is the core for instilling healthy and social emotion in our children. Nothing can compensate for parental love and guidance. The number of teenage suicides is on the increase. Clearly other factors enter in to this on-going problem. But this is even more a crucial reason why healthy parenting is a necessity. Excellent hub Denise.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 16 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

That is an interesting point, Marsha. Having had seven children myself, each was raised in a different era of my life. The family dynamics played a large part in who provided what. Our younger children were raised primarily by their older siblings. We tried to make sure that all felt the same kind of love and affection, but if you were to speak with them individually, they have their own perception of our efforts. If I had known then what I know now, I probably would have done things very differently! I appreciate your insights!


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 16 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

That is a good point, Audrey. There are many factors that confound our ability to establish and maintain emotional health in this day and age. In the observations I have made, both as a religious lay leader and a professional in the school system, healthy parenting is probably the one thing that makes the most difference. Those who have a safe haven in their homes are much less likely to fall prey to the wiles of their peers or the social stigma floating around in the media. Many do not realize how crucial their role as parents is in the lives of their children. Thanks for your great comments!


MGWriter profile image

MGWriter 16 months ago from Western Washington State

Hi, Denise I like your comment however children don't come with a set of instructions. I like the idea of having individuals - we would all have done things differently, but if we had would there still be the individuality that we have today in our society. We hear about awful things going on in our towns and cities, at the hands of young people. However, I believe that a good portion has gone on all along. The difference is the media and the emphasis put on the shocking and glamour brought out in crimes. When I look back on my own childhood it was relative calm. Today it seems that the values of the media is to see how soon and how shocking after an event it can be made. A class in college was about this very thing. I enjoy your columns, Thank You for your words.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 16 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Thanks for clarifying what you meant, Marsha. I see that today as well. It makes our job as parents much more difficult. Our children see and hear things that we never even knew existed! You are right in that the media tends to portray these things in such a way that they grab our attention, even when we don't want to give it. Hence, the vital importance of open communication with our youth. I appreciate your comments!


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 15 months ago from Victoria, Australia

So well researched and presented. Thank you for this interesting and informative hub.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 15 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Thanks, Blossom! I appreciate you stopping by and commenting!


DDE profile image

DDE 15 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Everything starts at home with all children. Interesting and well pointed out.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 15 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Thanks, DDE. Our homes are where our children receive the most important lessons of their lives. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.


Purpose Embraced profile image

Purpose Embraced 15 months ago from Jamaica

Thanks Denise. I really believe that the family is chiefly responsible for kids' emotional health. A nurturing, affirming atmosphere with proper boundaries is critical.

Children need to be taught the important skills you listed from early


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 15 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

I agree with you, Yvette. Our families are more important than we realize. Everything we do in our homes prepares them for life on their own and the earlier we start, the better. I appreciate your comment.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 15 months ago

I am a firm believer that the family should be the primary teacher for every child. The home is where a child finds stability and emotional support. You make some really valid points here, Denise.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 15 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota Author

Thanks Dianna. As an education professional, I'm sure you have seen the difference in those children who have received that stability and emotional support in the home and those that have not. There is a world of difference in the way they are able to conduct themselves in the public school setting, and in society in general. I appreciate your validation.

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