Taking care of children’s physical health while also teaching them to be mentally strong is a requirement of parenting. You’re doing it right if your child has a sense of wonder and enjoyment and copes well with stress.
Some people have an amazing sense of joy in life. They laugh freely and spontaneously, enjoy the smallest things, radiate with happiness and positivity, and affect those around them with their enthusiasm for life.
How do these people remain unaffected by all the stress and chaos around them? The truth is that their brains are wired differently. It’s not that they don’t experience disappointments and despair, but their brains are strong enough to cope with and recover from negative experiences.
All good parents want their children to be emotionally strong, stable, and purposeful. Warm and responsive parenting produces well-balanced and resilient children. Emotional stability is vital in a culture marred with violence, abuse, depression, and teen suicide.
According to research, “children learn about [emotion regulation (ER)] through observational learning, modeling and social referencing. Secondly, parenting practices specifically related to emotion and emotion management affect ER. Thirdly, ER is affected by the emotional climate of the family via parenting style, the attachment relationship, family expressiveness and the marital relationship.”
A Child’s Brain during Joy and Stress
When someone experiences excitement and joy, the body enters a high state of arousal, which includes a rush of chemicals like epinephrine, dopamine, and opioids. Children, just like adults, feel more energetic and enthusiastic. The heart rate goes up and the appetite increases. They feel like they can take on the world, and they can go on for hours despite physical tiredness.
Along with the activation of chemicals like epinephrine, dopamine, opioids, and adrenaline, stress chemicals also start surging in the body. When the body is stressed for longer than it should be, then it may cause subtle damage to key structures and systems in a developing brain.
Instead of overprotecting children from or overexposing them to stress and excitement, parents should acquaint them with emotional highs as well as lows so that their brains become accustomed to both the negatives and the positives and thus develop resilience.
As one research study highlights, “The same neuroplasticity that leaves emotional regulation, behavioral adaptation, and executive functioning skills vulnerable to early disruption by stressful environments also enables their successful development through focused interventions during sensitive periods in their maturation.”
Activate a Sense of Wonder and Joy in Your Children through Responsive Parenting
Awe, wonder, and joyfulness are naturally encoded in a person’s system. Through responsive parenting, parents can wire their children’s brains to feel happiness and joy, help them cope with stress and anger, and increase their sense of happiness.
Help children become aware of the good and positive things, people, and interactions around them rather than the negative things. The way parents communicate, even their choice of words, can deeply impact the way children perceive the world.
For instance, say that the day is beautiful, the food looks yummy, the dress looks pretty, or that the idea of going for a walk seems nice. Or, instead of toys and gadgets, expose children to experiences such as splashing in a puddle of water, lying on the grass and looking at the sky, or looking out the window at the rain.
Respond with Joy through Responsive Parenting
Parents’ tech habits can affect children in a negative way. The excessive use of gadgets like smartphones and tablets is creating parents who are there and yet not there in terms of attentiveness and involvement.
Following their parents’ lead, children usually start relying on their own gadgets to keep themselves stimulated and occupied. Such children often grow into emotionally reclusive and self-absorbed teenagers. Instead, if children are excited about something, respond to and match their excitement through responsive parenting.
You’re doing it right if your children become more delighted and excited by your response. On the contrary, if your response is lukewarm or something other than what they are expecting, they may become confused about their own response and try to curb it. It discourages them from sharing things with you. Parents need to show interest in what their children are doing or saying through their facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, and movement.
Some research points out that “emotions are not states but self‐organizing dynamic processes intimately tied to the flow of an individual’s activity in a context.”
Help Children Become Empathetic toward Others
Human connections and interactions shape a child’s personality and their absence stunts it. When a person shows empathy and concern for others, it changes the brain chemistry. This phenomenon can even be detected in brain scans. The anterior cingulated gyrus in the lower brain—the care and empathy region—lights up when an empathic person sees someone in distress.
On the other hand, when the lower brain and higher brain are not in sync, children tend to lack empathy for others and may exhibit cruel behavior. Through responsive parenting, parents and caregivers can strengthen the connection between the anterior cingulated gyrus and the higher brain.
Therefore, parents need to respond to their children’s physical as well as emotional needs in an empathetic and compassionate manner. As role models, parents teach their children to care for others, respect others’ feelings, and develop better relationships. Positive interaction nurtured through responsive parenting contributes to children’s physical and mental health as well as emotional well-being.
In an age where human contact, engagement, and emotions are being slowly replaced with gadgets, there is a need for responsive parenting. You’re doing it right if your child has a natural sense of joy, copes well with stress, and shows empathy to others.
- Morris, Amanda Sheffield, Jennifer S. Silk, Laurence Steinberg, Sonya S. Myers, and Lara Rachel Robinson. “The Role of the Family Context in the Development of Emotion Regulation.” Social Development 16, no. 2 (2007): 361–388. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com
- Fogel, Alan, Eva Nwokah, Jae Young Dedo, Daniel Messinger, K. Laurie Dickson, Eugene Matusov, and Susan A. Holt. “Social Process Theory of Emotion: A Dynamic Systems Approach.” Social Development 1, no. 2 (1992): 122–142. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com
- Shonkoff, Jack P. “Protecting Brains, Not Simply Stimulating Minds.” Science 333, no. 6045 (2011): 982–983. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org