How To Meet Kids Emotional Needs: Parenting Series, Part 4

A Parent's Guide Series - Providing & Guiding

By Holli Kenley

Am I a good mom and meeting my kids emotional needs?

Parenting books are filled with the latest suggestions on how and what to provide for children. Families tailor recommendations according to their values, belief systems, and traditional or cultural practices. But most critical, how do you meet your kids emotional needs?

Let’s focus on two areas to meet our kids needs:

  • Physiological Needs
  • Emotional Needs

Physiological Needs

Children’s basic physiological needs such as food, shelter, and clothing are extremely important for their healthy development. If children are deprived of these basic needs, other areas of growth are jeopardized and can result in delayed development or other adverse effects.

On the other end of the spectrum, because we live in a very material-driven culture, it is easy for parents to succumb to the pressures of “staying up with the latest fads” or “competing with the Joneses.”  Children want to fit in and belong and most parents don’t want their children to do without.

However, there are important lessons to be learned around “what is needed” and “what is wanted.” It’s up to parents to make those distinctions and demonstrate the meaning behind each.  Providing basic needs is essential for our children’s health and wellbeing.  Keeping a pulse on excesses and curbing their intake cultivates an appreciation for balance in their lives.

how am I meeting my kids emotional needs

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Emotional Needs

Children’s emotional needs center around three critical areas: love, belonging, and acceptance.

Love.  Love is a verb.  It needs to be expressed, and it also needs to be demonstrated.  Parents can tell their children they love them and they are important, but if parents are not available, do  not follow through on commitments, or their parenting techniques are contrary to a compassionate and caring approach, children receive mixed messages and begin to question their lovability.


Belonging.  Belonging means to feel a part of a meaningful entity or unit.  Having a strong sense of belonging within a family tethers children to their sense of worth and esteem.  Although their individual character and personality must be recognized, children who feel their being is an important “piece of a whole” tend to have greater feelings of self-efficacy. When children feel they do not “fit in” or when siblings are favored, they blame themselves and internalize it as self-deficiency.

am I meeting my kids emotional needs and being a good parent?

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At first, acceptance may seem to be the same as belonging. However, it is different.  Each child is unique. Each child has her own personality, talents, quirks, creativity, strengths, and weaknesses. Each child must be celebrated for who she is and what she brings to the world. Each deserves the respect and the unconditional positive regard from her parent/s or guardians. A lack of acceptance causes children to feel ashamed of who they are.  They often question their “reason for being.”


One of the most consistent finding in Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers was a feeling of “not being enough.”  One of the daughters referred to her feelings of emptiness as the “not enough syndrome.” Even when there were sporadic or conditional expressions of love and belonging, their mothers inability to demonstrate acceptance for the daughters greatly damaged their sense of worth and of mattering and negatively impacted  the daughters’ future relationships.

It’s important to provide love, belonging, and acceptance cultivates a deep sense of worth and value within a child. Not doing so creates significant disequilibrium around their sense of self and an inability to form healthy attachments as they grow and mature.

Take a deep breath and move on.

Am I being a good parent and meeting my kids needs.

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Exercise 1

Parents and guardians, while reflecting on the above concepts, assess on how you are providing for your children’s physiological and emotional needs.

Spend time responding to these questions:

  • Am I providing their essentials: food, shelter, and clothing? What areas need improvement?
  • Am I meeting their needs? Am I succumbing to their wants? Am I explaining the differences to them?
  • Am I expressing my love – both in my words and my actions? Are my actions consistent with the messages of love I am conveying?
  • Am I providing a sense of belonging for my children? Do they feel connected to the family unit? Have I checked with them lately?
  • Do I accept my children for who they are? Do I acknowledge them for their unique qualities, characteristics, gifts, talents, etc.? Am I critical, judgmental, or do I find fault with them? Have I asked them if they feel accepted by me? Have I asked them if they feel “like they are enough?”

Two behaviours for guiding our kids:

  • Mentoring
  • Modeling


Mentoring is a common term which we typically associate with an experienced individual who is training a novice or less knowledgeable person in a specific field or task. For the purposes of our guiding, we are going to define mentoring as “informing and guiding our children as they move through their developmental stages in order to be better prepared to navigate their world.”

We talked earlier about the importance of parents being a “safe harbor” for their children. Mentoring adds another dimension to this metaphor.  Children need to know that parents will provide a consistent compass for them to tether their decision-making and their course of direction. Although it is beneficial to children’s development when parents provide their children with diverse athletic opportunities, artistic activities, and academic interests, this does not mean that we expect children to follow in our footsteps or that they must embrace the interests and passions we engaged in as children. It means that as our children discover and uncover what their interests are and as they struggle through developmental challenges and changes, parents and guardians are available and present to talk through issues, problem solve, and assist their children in setting an informed course of action or path. Of course, younger children require more direction and guidance. Also, effective mentoring means tailoring our approach to the individual needs and personality of each child.

am I a good parent and meeting my kids emotional needs to help them grow

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Several of the daughters in my research for Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers reported that because their mothers were unwilling or unable to guide them through the adolescent to teen developmental stages, they were uninformed and highly unprepared for the complexities and consequences of intimate relationships. Most of the daughters interpreted their mother’s indifference in guiding and preparing them as not being worthy, as not mattering enough.  They were left to navigate unchartered waters on their own.

Although there are times where is it beneficial for children to experience the consequences of their behavior and of their choices, when children are left adrift to “figure it out for themselves,” without informed guidance, the consequences can be deeply damaging and at times dangerous.


Parents and guardians have heard this word a lot!  However, its importance cannot be emphasized enough!  If we do not practice what we preach or if we do not model the behaviors we hope to instill in our children, they will learn that too.

Modeling means “showing our children how to do something or demonstrating the desired behavior through the process of imitation.” Modeling does not mean we have to be perfect.  It means we need to be consistent with and conscious of our behaviors as we establish expectations and norms for our children.

A common complaint often expressed by parents and guardians is that their children are too attached to their phones. Parents report conflict about excess phone usage, children not paying attention, and arguments over attending to other responsibilities, chores, etc.  However, when children have been surveyed about their parents’ screen usage, they feel their parents are distracted and disconnected as well! Numerous studies report children wish their parents would spend less time on their technology!

It’s important to remember, we – as parents and guardians – are our children’s first teachers.  What we say and do matters.  Our children are observing and learning from us.  As they grow and mature, they are likely to model what has been demonstrated at home.

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Exercise 2

Remember, we don’t have to change everything at once.  However, when it comes to “mentoring and modelling”, it is important to be brutally honest with ourselves.

Spend some time reflecting on the following questions:

  • As my children grow and develop, am I an effective guide? Am I a reliable compass or are they trying to “figure it out by themselves?”
  • Do I expect my children to be like me or follow my dreams or do I cultivate their unique characters and support their dreams? Have I asked them if they feel they will disappoint me if they don’t embrace a certain practice or interest? Am I ready to hear their answers?
  • Am I modeling the kinds of behaviors and attitudes I want to instill in my children? What areas do I need to work on?  What am I doing well?
  • What expectations do I have for my children that I need to practice or improve upon?
  • When I see my children misbehaving or mistreating someone or something, have I asked them where they learned the behavior? Am I willing to listen to their responses?
  • Do my children see me as an effective role model?  Have I asked them?

In closing, today’s exercises are not easy to assess and address. And, they require a commitment to implementing them on a daily basis.  Just as is true with any exercise program, the more we workout – the more we integrate these practices into our routine – they will take hold of us, providing and guiding us in our parenting journey.

Publishers Notes: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of  Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bulling, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”

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A Parent's Guide Series - Providing & Guiding.