Our little ones haven’t yet developed the ability to calm themselves down. They need our help to regulate their emotions as they develop the essential brain wiring and gain a whole lot of life experience. In the meantime, we will often be called upon to help them calm down (like, REALLY often).
But what if our little ones seem to become upset even when we need to do something that isn’t really optional, like changing their nappy? Or if they become distressed over something illogical? If we comfort them at those times, do we risk creating a bad habit?
If we comfort them every time they’re upset, won’t they become less independent?
There are a couple of concepts that are really helpful to know about when we think about comfort.
Firstly, when our young children become upset and overwhelmed, they need our help to calm down, regardless of the reason. Children can’t learn or see logic in situations when they’re upset, so it’s not an effective teaching strategy to only comfort them when it seems reasonable to us. Instead, when we do take this approach, our children can start to realise that we won’t always be there for them. And that’s not a message that any of us want our children to learn.
The other helpful concept to understand, is that children who are comforted more consistently when they’re upset (regardless of the reason), grow up to be more confident and independent. And the research backs this up. It seems that knowing that we will be there for them if they need, empowers our little ones to explore a little further, to play a little longer, and to gradually become more independent.
The key message here? Be your young child’s safe haven as often as they need, even when it seems illogical or excessive. You’ll not only be helping them to calm down more efficiently in the moment, but you’ll be fostering their emotional regulation skills and their independence for the future too.
For more great advice from Dr Kaylene Henderson: