Emotional needs of children as they grow

Statistics show that 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. It is easy for us to identify a child’s physical needs: nutritious food, warm, clean clothes, a roof over their heads, routine bedtimes, and medical care when needed. However, a child’s mental and emotional needs may not be so obvious. Good emotional health helps children to develop socially and learn new skills, develop self-confidence, high self-esteem, and a healthy emotional outlook on life.

Here, You will find a list of the emotional needs of a child by age, from birth right up to teenagers.

Baby’s First Year:

  • Love: All the times you feed your baby, give cuddles, and do a myriad of small things to show your love. They want all of it.
  • Touch: Skin-to-skin contact after birth is extremely powerful. It helps regulate babies’ temperature, heart rate, and breathing, and helps them cry less. It helps moms too. When mothers cuddle their newborn babies they get a hit of the cuddle-hormone oxytocin.
  • Safety: Your baby is new to the world and looks to you to keep her safe. A baby always needs to know that there is someone to care for and someone to always turn to in need.
  • Attention: An important emotional milestone for babies is learning how to have ‘conversations’ with parents and caregivers.


  • Praise: Encourage a growth mindset—the belief that kids can develop basic abilities through dedication and hard work. Kids who are praised for their effort and method instead of their knowledge, or the end result, are more likely to develop a growth mindset, which will have a positive impact on their confidence. Praise them sincerely and honestly. Do not shower false praises. Be specific and descriptive in your praise. Avoid giving conditional or controlling praise like ‘Good! you can do better!’ or ‘I want you to do better next time!’. Also, avoid comparisons in praise like ‘You are the smartest in your class’ or ‘You are so talented, just like your brother’.
  • Empathy: Children feel respected and valued when you acknowledge their opinions, feelings, and desires. For instance, telling him/her, “I know it’s hard to stop playing with your Legos and take a bath,” communicates that what he is doing is essential to you.
  • Safe boundaries: The world they are exploring during these years is a big place. There is much to learn, much to see, and so much to figure out. Children count on parents to set up limits and guidelines, show them when to stop and let them know we will keep them safe. Deep inside, they want to know that we will not let them go too far.

Child (4 – 11 years old)

  • Unconditional Love & Acceptance: Children need to know that you accept their feelings, and their mistakes and love them unconditionally. For example, telling your child, “I know you spilt the milk, but you didn’t do it on purpose,” or saying, “Crying is OK. You feel sad your friend is moving.” Acceptance also means that they need to be treated with respect, treated with kindness and courtesy, just like adults need. Acceptance also means that their feelings, opinions and ideas are valued and their uniqueness in any aspect is acknowledged.
  • Safety through the familiar routine: Children, like the rest of us, handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine. A predictable routine allows children to feel safe, and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives.
  • Permission to Fail: Children are learning. And they will make lots and lots of mistakes along the way. Each will teach them something new that will help them get things right the next time. When we see our children get into difficulty it’s our instinct to rush in and fix the problem. If we stand back, then they often find a way to resolve things on their own. Like adults, children also need to be treated with respect, kindness and courtesy.

Emotional Needs of a Teenager (12 – 18 years old)

  • Knowing You’re Always There: As your teen forges their way in the world they will pull away from you. It’s all part of growing up. But the confidence and security to do so often rely on knowing there is a safe and consistent haven at home. Adolescence is an exhilarating time full of emotional lows and highs. Parents can play an important part in supporting and guiding teens to feel good about themselves as they deal with heightened emotions. Parents’ steady, unwavering presence is critically important.
  • Freedom to make decisions: Teens have a pressing need to be independent and make their own way in the world. It’s hard, as parents, to let them make decisions that we know might be wrong. But giving them some freedom to do so can build their self-esteem and minimise their frustration.
  • Forgiveness: Every teen is expected to make mistakes, some of which can be easily fixed while some others can have greater consequences. When they see the consequences firsthand, they will know they have messed up. Showing that you forgive them and love them, even when they have made a mistake, counts for an awful lot. It helps them to want to gather themselves again, get up and get going. It builds resilience.
  • Communication: If you really time how much you really communicate with your child each day, you will see that its hardly in minutes. Teenagers need to be listened to and understood. They need a friend so they can speak their heart, and reach out for guidance or help without having the fear of being judged or reprimanded. Be your child’s best friend, if you can. If you have a busy routine, then it is best to set aside at least 20-30 min of uninterrupted and focused conversation time with your teens each day.

Emotional health provides a foundation for success in school, work, marriage and life in general. Failure to recognize and satisfy these needs jeopardizes our children’s future and that of succeeding generations. Emotional health contributes to a healthy family environment and strengthens us as a nation. You are your child’s best emotional coach.

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