Human beings do not come with instruction books. Perhaps they should because the need for an individual’s emotional care begins before birth and, in truth, well before conception. Ideally, all of our needs — for the structure and function of our bodies and the daily flux of interpretations, decisions and interactions with others — would be met. In reality, nourishment, education, self-control, and wisdom are just the beginning of a lifetime of supporting and fine-tuning the human estate. With every challenge, our emotional needs could be neglected or relegated to chance but that does not have to happen. Awareness of and attention to these requirements can enhance our lives at every stage.
In the womb, safety and basic needs are set on automatic though the care and emotional state of the mother (and father) are important in maintaining this balance. Throughout this amazing period, care can be given by practicing grace, understanding, and encouragement through talking or singing, with good thoughts and by actions designed to bring peace and nourishment to each child. This “love” often comes naturally to us and continues after birth — unless it doesn’t.
That’s where instruction books could help, and there are many references and resources that parents often seek out. Generally, we have a high regard for our children. Critical development continues; so should exquisite care and guidance. Showing affection for a child fosters a sense of trust in caregivers and the larger world. Social growth begins here as a child learns to interact with others and form relationships. Emotional development is not only about controlling one’s own emotions but also how a person feels about himself and the world. According the National Academy of Sciences, a child needs more than intellectual skills to be successful in academics. She needs the motivation to learn and a strong capacity for both social and emotional fulfillment.
The brain is still growing and changing during the first few years of life. It takes a lot of exploring, supervision, encouragement, and support to try new things and learn the myriad of truths that adults may take for granted. This is a time of extreme opportunity to set a lifetime of confidence, social acumen, and internal strength. Insight and judgment are qualities that must serve for a lifetime. The term “emotional toolkit” is accurate description, and these tools will be used every day when it comes to self-awareness and self-control. Is this difficult and frustrating? Yes, but fortunately, much can be accomplished through a simple concept, one that is both satisfying to the child and the responsible adult: play.
Play continues to be an important tool throughout childhood and should remain an option throughout life. Without play and the supportive love we need, we can’t find that place between relaxation and competence or that balance of leadership and cooperation. Life, indeed, is like riding a bicycle. Organized sports or pick-up neighborhood games are classrooms for all kinds of exchanges, many of these related to emotional discernment.
Adolescence, another intense period of growth and change, continues lessons about independence and how to de an adult in this world. More responsibilities, workloads, and expectations are given to teens while they are encountering a sometimes difficult period of growth. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (Operation of Population Affairs) cites factors that affect how well adolescents navigate the process of building skills, discovering their unique qualities, and developing strengths for optimal health.
Hormone changes in the brain bring about physical changes but also affect mood and heighten emotional response. Because of this natural development, a teen may be more easily swayed by emotions he feels, and making appropriate decisions may be difficult. Topped with the speed at which these are happening, stressful changes in peer relationships, school expectations, family dynamics, and safety concerns in communities, are difficulties that are easy to understand, but even positive experiences can sometimes trigger a nervous system response. However, the stress response is not always bad. Events that are positive (landing a first job, getting a driver’s license) can foster alertness and focus. Good self-management skills and emotional support from those who are important to him can enable someone in late adolescence and even the decade of the twenty-somethings to step back, examine his emotions, and consider consequences before making decisions.
Our complex society challenges how adults respond to feelings and dealings with other people. Consider the examples here. When I learned to drive, even traffic was quite different than it is today. Jobs were often securely held for decades, with retirement options more accessible than they are today, if they even exist. Each decade brings emotional challenges. Choosing a life partner, making relationships of all kinds work, paying off extreme college loans, jockeying through the job market and, especially dealing with any illness or disorder that might come along, as well as worry about aging parents and families of their own provide plenty of stress for adults through their most productive years.
In later stages of life, most people have seen loss and struggled with related emotions and changes. Loneliness, financial setback, reduced productivity and ability to function at the accustomed level are other factors, but the need for contact and support are as necessary as they were at the beginning. Without these, end of life issues like failure to thrive may hasten.
Emotional care is as essential as food, water, and air.