Growing a Child

7-13th February 2022 is Children’s Mental Health Week with the theme of Growing Together – helping children and adults to think about how we grow emotionally, and how we can help each other to do so.


We are all aware how much children grow physically, from the tiny baby in your arms to the teenager, who may grow to tower over you. Many of us know about the impact of good nutrition and its role in developing healthy and strong children and young people. However, the emotional growth that occurs, from the infant who is totally dependent on the adults in their lives to the independent, or perhaps interdependent, young adult, can often be overlooked.


Emotional growth is just as important for a healthy and fulfilled life as physical growth, indeed emotional health at age 16 is a stronger predictor of mental health and life chances at age 30 than either demographic or socio-economic factors. Emotional growth requires nurture, rather than nutrition. It requires the adults in children’s lives to be able to tune into and respond to children’s emotional needs: to recognise and name their feelings, to co-regulate when those feelings are overwhelming, to provide opportunities for fun and laughter and to share in their delight at their achievements. Helping adults to grow emotionally is crucial if they are to be able to do this for the children in their lives.


Challenges and setbacks are a normal part of life. We cannot and should not protect children from all stresses and difficulties. A small amount of stress can be energising and motivating and is an inevitable part of developing and learning new things, including about our relationships. Working through stressful times can help us to develop resilience. However, children often need adult help to do this. Accepting difficult feelings and normalising, though not minimising them, is essential for children to grow into emotionally rounded and capable adults. Children who experience this support from adults, learn how to do it for themselves and then for their friends. Friends can be “first line mental health workers” – they are the ones to whom we tell our worries, who cheer us when we’re feeling down or affirm our sense of outrage at some injustice.


Our emotional strength can develop and grow. We can develop our ability to regulate our emotions, our relationship skills, our self-awareness, our sense of competence and our compassion for ourselves and others. Inevitably, some days will be better than others. Good emotional health provides the foundation for good mental health, and we need to create environments that enable rather than disable emotional growth, whether at home, at school or at work.


Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health is dedicated to enabling children and adults to realise their individual potential, enjoy positive relationships and live healthy and fulfilled lives, whether at home, at school or at work. For more information about our training and resources for professionals working with families, school staff and communities throughout the UK, contact us at info@familylinks.org.uk


Sarah Darton, CEO