President Barack Obama did more than motivate a country last night at the Tucson Memorial Service when he urged all of us to be role models for nine-year old shooting victim, Christina Taylor Green, "I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us should do whatever we can to live up to our children's expectations." He identified the single biggest factor that helps a child develop into a healthy adult-we need to meet children's expectations. The difficulty is that children can't communicate their expectations. Consequently, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about child development. Following are some of the common myths about children's expectations (needs) and what they actually require from the people that take care of them.
Actually, the younger the child is, the more stress and trauma can affect them in profound ways. For one, the child is not fully developed and cannot process the pain. Stress or trauma that occurs when one cannot speak is considered pre-verbal and can remain throughout life and leave someone with a feeling in their body that they cannot explain. In addition, children are at their most vulnerable in the first year of development as their brain and hormones are developing. As one simple example, if a baby is confronted with stress and the mother is not there to help soothe and calm them down, the baby's system could get flooded with cortisol, a stress hormone, which leads to the cortisol receptors shutting down and resuls in the development of fewer cortisol receptors. With fewer cortisol receptors, a person is not able to deal with the everyday stress in life because the brain the extra cortisol has nowhere to go. They literally feel flooded because they are.
Expectation--Babies need a primary caregiver during the first year to act as their external stress monitor. Babies depend on a mother's comforting touch to soothe them so that they can develop healthy hormones and adaptive ways to deal with stress. Young children still require this same external stress protection and are in the continual process of developing and reaching self-control by age 3.
Myth #2 - Children are resilient
People often claim that children are resilient and will bounce back. They cannot bounce back if they don't have the skills. Good parenting helps children become resilient. Teaching resilience is akin to teaching a man to fish. As the proverb goes: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for one day. Teach a man to fish and he'll never go hungry again. With children, you cannot tell them what they think, feel or what they should do. If you do, they'll learn to listen to you and will never learn how to identify their own thoughts and problem-solving skills. Instead, listen to them. Ask how they feel, what they think, and what they think they should do. Act as a counselor to your children and you're sure to develop their resilience.
Expectation--Give a child unconditional love and your undivided attention in order to help them build self-awareness and problem-solving skills which leads to resilience.
Myth #3 - All a child needs is love
Love is probably one of the most confounding words in the English language, or any language for that matter. What love means to one person can look entirely different to another. Rather than explore the different definitions of love here, the key is to provide a child with attuned attention. Children, along with all healthy relationships, require emotional availability and support. What that means is that the one takes the time to listen, to care, to pay attention and notice how one is feeling, what they want and what they need. If it's a hug and a conversation, then the parent picks up on it and offers it. If it is quiet time to color together and wait for the child to talk about how they feel at their pace, the parent takes the patience and respects the child's process. If the child is upset and crying, the parent sits with their uncomfortable feelings and does not dismiss them with words like, "You'll be fine" or "Stop acting like a baby." The parent does not judge and the parent does not act narcissistic.
Expectation--Provide children with unconditional positive regard and respect their feelings, thoughts, and needs.