Emotional Disorders in Children: Nature or Nurture

By Joseph Sacks, LCSW

How did my child ever get to be so difficult to handle? Is it all my fault? Was he born this way, and I just have bad luck?

Many parents struggle with understanding the rhyme and reason behind emotional disorders in children.

emotional disorders in childhood - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

The truth is emotional disorders in children is about 25 percent nature and 75 percent nurture. That is, emotional problems are caused by a child being born with a sensitive temperament, combined with environmental stressors that result from certain parenting attitudes.

Let’s say there are two siblings: one is born with a strong, hardy emotional make-up and one with a softer, more sensitive one. Then, they both go through the stress of their parents’ divorce. The gentler child may end up with anxiety or depression as a result, as his constitution could not handle the emotional stress. Yet, the tougher one had the fortitude to weather the challenges of his parents’ divorce without major emotional damage, though he may have reacted with a bit of rebelliousness and developed some behavior problems, such as tantrums or defiance. It was the stress that caused the anxiety, depression or behavior problems, but their genetic makeup set up their particular vulnerabilities to emotional disorders.

Now, let’s say you have the same two siblings growing up with a parenting approach that is authoritarian, punitive and controlling. It is unfortunate, but such families do exist nowadays. The more sensitive child is likely to be emotionally crushed by his parents’ strict, harsh approach, and will become overly compliant, anxious and develop a low sense of self-worth. He may behave well on the outside but deep down inside he is fragile and suffering with a loss of his sense of self. At the same time, the hardy sibling will react with rebellion, defiance and oppositional behavior in a desperate attempt to preserve his self-view. He will exhibit all sorts of behavior problems, such as aggression, disrespectful back-talk and hanging out with inappropriate peers. Most cases are not so extreme, but this gives you an idea how greatly parental attitudes affect their children’s emotional well-being.

Be Gentle And Supportive To Prevent Emotional Disorders In Children!

We must be exceedingly careful how we deal with our children! Contrary to popular belief, children are not at all resilient. They are extremely fragile and sensitive, and can be terribly harmed by a harsh parenting approach. We must strive to be gentle, kind, patient and tolerant towards our children in every manner. They may have been born with certain character traits, but it is what they do with them that counts. Limits need to be set, but it must be done with a gentle style. For more information about the pitfalls of scolding children, click here.

emotional disorders in childhood - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

This is actually amazingly good news. If I were to tell you that your child’s problems are all genetic, then what could you do to fix them? You can’t change his or her genetics. However, since most emotional problems are caused by stresses in the environment, many issues can be largely fixed by changing your child’s environment! It’s as simple as that. The key to achieving this change is to adopt a practice of making your child’s life as happy and pleasant as possible, never being a source of stress to them. That means being nice. You must be exceedingly nice to your child in every way! With such an attitude, your child will thrive and will experience a reduction in the intensity of many common emotional disorders in children, such as anxiety and depression.

For more good advice about how to prevent emotional disorders, click here.

You Can Understand Emotional Disorders In Children

I highly recommend perusing the information contained in this website as I cover these parenting principles in depth. Please be advised that the above principles represent a parenting ideal, and I do not expect anyone to fulfill it perfectly. Therefore, have patience with yourself and try to implement these ideas into practice gradually. Just as we should be nice to our children, we should be nice to ourselves.

I invite you to download one of my helpful free reports and get on my email list to receive more new posts like this.

Or, if you would like personally tailored help addressing emotional disorders in children or developing your relationship with your child from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan,

you may call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 646-681-1707. I look forward to speaking with you!

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