School child’s emotional support

A….nd you are here! The second post in the series of How to support a child before school age for high academic and life performance. Just in case you haven’t read the first, click here to read it so as to have freer flow with this post – although this alone is still understandable.


Consistent research on brain science has indicated that developing brain is not neatly divided into separate areas governing learning, thinking and emotions. Instead, it is found that the developing brain- such as pre-schoolers’ – is a highly interconnected organ with different regions influencing, and being affected by the others. In other words, the part of a child’s brain that is responsible for learning influences and is influenced by other parts of the brain such as the parts responsible for the child’s emotions.

Hence, any child who must succeed with excellence in any academic pursuits and life in general; must also have a good emotional foundation. And this is as a responsibility for parents as the provision of nutritious food, shelter and clothing.

Definition of terms

Emotions as here used, refers to the strong feelings that result from reactions to one’s circumstances, mood or relationship with others.

Stress, or circumstances that influences our emotions, is a part of the natural design of life – every day experiences. This is true for all forms of life – humans or lesser beings such as animals and plants. And we learn to manage stress from the first moment of our being until the final whistle is blown.

Children are not left out in the battle with stress. Children are able to manage some stress like the fear of syringe during immunization or sibling’s teasing. However, other form of stress is rather traumatic and difficult for them to handle. Some of such over whelming stress includes physical abuse, witnessing domestic violence, parents who have substance abuse problem and chronic poverty. Such experiences are called “toxic stress” problems. Those experiences exceed children’s capacity for coping.

Children usually rely on the assistance of trusted adults; not only to help them cope with everyday stresses but also to develop emotional qualities that enable them to be competent learners. Such qualities include self – awareness, and self confidence; self regulation (of attention, felling, impulses, and thinking); social and emotional understanding, empathy and caring for others: and initiative as enthusiastic, active learners.

Interviews with preschool and kindergarten teachers indicate that “children who have the greatest difficulties in learning are hindered by lack of these qualities more than by the inability to identify letters and numbers” (Source: California Department of Education. (2010). California Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 1,. California: California Department of Education).

And although these qualities are among the cardinal point of any preschool or family care programs, the foundation of each are laid at home- by providing emotional support.

Ways of providing Emotional Support

There are basically six things parents can do to provide necessary emotional support for their children. These include:

  • Avoiding or Reducing toxic stress
  • Providing unconditional love
  • Building the child’s self confidence and self esteemed
  • Engaging the child in play
  • Providing security and safety
  • Giving appropriate guidance and discipline

                i.      How to avoid or reduce toxic stress for children

As explained earlier, toxic stress are traumatic experiences which are difficult for children to handle but which, if left unmanaged, can lead to physical and mental problems – impede child’s overall positive development. Examples of toxic stress are physical abuse (such as physical assault and sexual abuse), witnessing domestic violence, parents who have substance abuse, chronic poverty, etc.

The first part of a child to be affected by toxic stress is his or her emotion. Hence the first emotional support parents can give to their children is to avoid such toxic stress, or eliminate it completely.

Avoiding physical stresses on children

Physical abuse manifests in various forms including:

  • Provocation – through insults and use of mean words or verbal threats.
  • Intimidation – making children fear by making a fist, pushing, stalking
  • Brutality – pinching, knocking, flogging, striking, slapping hitting, pulling, etc

Too often than not, physical abuse occurs not with the intent to hurt a child but as a form of discipline. Hence, the abuser may lack knowledge of the effects of such act on the child. This however, does not make the effect any less.

Physically abused children finds it difficult relating to their peers and adults in future. It makes them perpetually vigilant and mistrustful. And they may be overly domineering and aggressive in their attempts to predict over people’s behaviour. They may also have problems with academic achievement, physical development and coordination, developing friendship and relationship aggression and anger management, anxiety and low self esteem.

To avoid physical abuse, parents should ensure that they guard themselves against the acts. More so, if a child is enrolled for a family child care other than a professional preschool program such as hiring a nanny, ensure that such person is enlightened about these acts and if possible, the effects.

Avoiding provocation or verbal aggression

It is but natural for parents to be angry when their children misbehave, frequently and repeatedly. Parents are moved (by the natural inclination of man to protect what he loves from attack) to correct such misbehaviour. For rightly considered, any act of misbehaviour that is left to tarry is an attack on the child and his/her future.

Nonetheless, this desire to ward-off such attack from children; or perhaps the unconscious and free-flowing thought/feeling of losing the child to the danger of misbehaviour induces parents to act un-meditatively – mostly with “counter-attacks” expressed in form of insult or physical hitting or spanking. Although, parents most times do not mean to hurt the child, the very act of “counter-attacking” children’s misbehaviour with insults and physical beating generally tend to backfire and is therefore WRONG! Let’s now discuss each separately – what it really is, the effect and how to avoid both.

Insult and physical abuse as a disciplinary tool

Meaning and forms of insult

Insult as used here denotes any form of utterance (of a parent) that offends a child’s emotion or which causes provocation. Insult can take many forms. These include:

  • Name calling: “Are you stupid, mad or foolish?” “You are very stupid!” “You are too lazy”
  • Shame: “You embarrass me…you are such a disappointment“ “I’m disappointed in you”
  • Comparisons: “I wish you were more like Child-B, he is so much smarter than you are“, “Can’t you see other children?”, “Your mates are this or that but you are the opposite”
  • Teasing in public: “Oh he is at the bottom of his class“, “He don’t like going to school”
  • Rejection: “Keep quiet and run away from here! “ “Shut up!”, “I don’t want to hear a word from you”
  • Extreme or negative criticisms: “You are good for nothing. Why can’t you make me proud in even one thing“
Effects of insult on children
  • Lowered self-esteem: Every time a parent insults his child – on a one-on-one basis or worse in public – such parent reduces the child’s self-worth little by little. This is true even if it’s only one of the parents (either only mother or father) that insult the child.  Always tell a child that s/he is lazy, soon the child will come to believe that it is the truth and the next time the child is told to do something elsewhere such as at school, s/he will say “I can’t, I am lazy”. Always tell a child that s/he is stupid (which means senseless or not intelligent), and let it sink into the child’s unconsciousness, then if a smart child is asked to do something in the child’s class, the child will be ringing intrinsically what you always say, “you can’t do that, you are stupid; remember?”; Always tell a child s/he embarrasses or disappoints you and the child will try as much as s/he can never to do that outside the walls of your home, which means the child will not do anything new; Always tells a child s/he is not like Musa, the smartest boy in his class, or tell everyone that the child knows nothing – he’s always at the bottom of the class and that child will give up trying.
  • Disobedience: Most parents do not want to cause intentional harm to their kids. The insult, in most cases, is a momentary outburst rooted in parental stress and anger. You think that yelling or insulting them would discipline them. But this is often not the case. The design of human mind is oriented towards defence. Each and every time we are faced with confrontation of any kind, we are swayed by some kind of internal force to act in the opposite. This is the instance of disciplining a child through insults and physical use of force. For the insults, blows and strokes, pulling and pushing are but confrontation of some sorts; which the child is moved to act in opposition to. This opposition may be in form of physical protest such as if you slap a child and s/he hits you back; or the child may protest by repeating the act for which s/he is being punished for.
  • More aggressive or depressive behaviour: Insulting can have long term repercussions. It can either make your child very aggressive as he/she grows up – as they grow up thinking it is OK to verbally abuse and insult someone – or they can go into a depression or become suicidal due to lack of self-worth. In some cases, insult becomes part of the child’s regular vocabulary. Hence, though they may not mean to insult their peers; they end up doing so – to which if such friend complains, they protest because they see no reason why their friend should be angry at their “seeming joke” of insults.
  • Troubled Relationship with Parents: Respect is a two-way street. The parent that insults his/her child should be prepared of the child’s distrust as the child grows. Though the parent’s reason(s) for use of insult may not be outright evil, the child most times does not see it from that perspective – no one ever thinks love from another who insults him/her at every mistake. The gall of parent-child relationship, if initiated, may extend up to adulthood. Too often than not, have we had a parent or two complain that one of his/her children loves the partner more. Although many factors may be responsible for this difference in affection to both parents, it cannot be completely ruled out that the parent relationship with the child, from the child’s earliest years, is contributor. Finally, a parent that constantly insults his/her child predisposes the child to abuse by strangers. This is so because child abusers usually come to children as friends. These enemies in disguise would normally offer temporary comfort only to take advantage of the child’s trust later on.

Irrespective of the form an insult takes, it has devastating effects on the child. Despite this fact, it is a common experience of an average Nigerian child. In fact, there is hardly a Nigerian adult that did not experience any of the above listed forms of insult as a child. This however does not make this act right.

Having looked at the negative effects of insult on children, any parent that really wants to provide the needed support for the child must abstain or avoid the use of insult as a disciplinary tool.

If this act is already in existence, parents must make deliberate effort towards total elimination. You must understand that although physical abuse, as a disciplinary tool may remedy the error at the present time it causes more damage in later years. Suggestions on alternative discipline approach to insult and use of physical force are provided in later sections.

Sexual Abuse

A physical abuse, worthy of special mention is sexual abuse. This is necessary due to how prevalent it has become in our present time and the wide range of long – lasting (if not permanent) negative effects it has on children.

So, let’s pause and have a little talk on Child Sexual Abuse. Click here to go to the discussion.
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