Celebrate Mental Health Month with Your Child; Make Sure a Valuing Relationship is in Place

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A child's mental health flourishes when the in-born capacity for empathy is established. A valuing parent/child relationship is required, not just discipline.

Validating a child's feelings establishes empathy, the most critical mental health quality.

There’s a dangerous parenting trend occurring that does nothing to strengthen a child’s mental health: the almost exclusive focus on discipline (to spank or not to spank, etc.) with little to no attention on a valuing parent/child relationship.

According to Gary M. Unruh, MSW LCSW, a 40-year veteran mental health practitioner, “This trend is dangerous because a valuing parent/child relationship is the lifeblood of developing a child’s good mental health. Increasingly, parents are too busy to spend enough time with their children and often do not have enough information about establishing a valuing relationship."

Why is good child mental health so dependent upon a valuing relationship? It establishes a kid’s inborn ability to love and empathize with others—the most productive and pleasurable aspect of living — and it’s free. Without this source of pleasure, material things and addiction will fill this pleasure need.

After counseling over 2,500 children, Unruh has seen over and over what happens when parents focus exclusively on what a kid does. "It's the natural thing to do," Unruh admits, "and probably explains our excessive focus on discipline. But parents are missing a critical part: validating the child’s feelings that cause the behavior."

Unruh’s book, Unleashing the Power of Parental Love, provides step-by-step tips and guidelines for successfully validating a child’s feelings. This little used but critical key will open the door to a valuing parent/child relationship.

Instead of, “Stop hitting your sister” with no mention of feelings, parents using the feelings-first approach would say, "You’re angry and handling your anger by hitting you sister." Unruh points out, "Feelings represent a child’s core and what causes a child’s behavior. After validating the feelings (not the behavior), firm discipline can then follow."

The result of this feelings-first approach? A child learns the most critical mental health quality: empathy—how caring is done and what it feels like to be understood and valued. These children then become compassionate adults, able to feel for others.

A child’s mental health flourishes when the foundation of respectful disciplining is a valuing parent/child relationship.
Here’s a challenge to several leaders who can make a difference: President and Michelle Obama, Dr. Phil, and Oprah Winfrey, put the parent/child relationship on the top of your agenda. Our children’s mental health needs to be a national priority.

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