4. Filling A Child’s Emotional Tank


It is so important to realise that from birth, children are extremely sensitive emotionally. In our first lesson, we stressed the importance of conveying unconditional love to a child. Their greatest emotional need is to be loved.

Conveying love to a child can be classified into four areas, eye contact, physical contact, focused attention and discipline. Dr Ross Campbell the well-known child psychiatrist calls this filling the emotional tank.

Every child has an emotional tank within him. Only when their emotional tank is full can they be expected to be at their best or do their best.

It is the responsibility of parents to keep this emotional tank full. A child’s behaviour will always indicate the status of that tank. In this lesson we are omitting discipline that we might save it for a future lesson.

Eye Contact

An infant’s eyes begin to focus two to four weeks after birth. One of the first places they focus on is your face, particularly on your eyes. They are feeding emotionally. Eye contact might seem relatively unimportant in relating to a child, but it is crucial in communicating with a child and filling their emotional needs.

We use eye contact as a primary means of conveying love, especially to children. The more parents make eye contact with their children as a means of expressing their love, the more a child is nourished with love. Eye contact is looking directly into the eyes of another person.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who will not look at you but looks in another direction? A person who looks at you pleasantly is easy to talk with. Eye contact has much to do with the way we adults relate to each other.

Unfortunately, eye contact is only given when a child pleases us many times. We are guilty of removing eye contact to make a negative point, or show hostility or anger. Avoidance of eye contact is often used as a means of punishment. Eye contact is often given only when a child is reprimanded.

All of these uses of eye contact can be very devastating, even more, painful than corporal punishment. We convey so much through eye contact, sadness, anger, hate, pity, rage, and love. Unfortunately, some children see only those emotions that do not express love.

A child or young person who talks to you with downcast eyes, ‘no eye contact’, is in all probability experiencing emotional problems. They are usually lacking in unconditional love. One who can look you in the face has had their emotional tank full through their younger years.

However, teens will vary in ability to make eye contact. They may seek it one moment and avoid it the next. It is a constant downcast look that we should be aware of, it always speaks of trouble.

We would like to add that in addition to eye contact the entire facial expression is important. Good eye contact should be accompanied by pleasant facial expressions.

Physical Contact

This is one of the most obvious ways to show love. Yet studies indicate most parents touch children, only when it is necessary, dress, undress, get into a car, etc.

It is such a simple thing to touch, poke, and tousle their hair. Touching conveys love. This is why children love their little games like, ‘this Little Piggy’. They love to be touched.

Research shows girls less than 12 months old receive five times as much physical affection as boy infants. It is also interesting that five to six times as many boys as girls end up in psychiatric hospitals. This would indicate there must be some connection.

Some feel such affection might feminize boys into being a ‘sissy’, but the opposite is true. The more a boy’s emotional needs are met by physical and eye contact, especially by the father, the more he will identify with the male sex and the more masculine he will be.

The way physical contact is done will change with age. Infants need to be held, cuddled, and hugged. This is crucial until about age 7 or 8. Then comes the wrestling, jostling, and backslapping, give me five-stage.

It is such a simple thing to give light brief touches on the shoulder, back, and arms. It helps the child feel that their mother and dad really love them.

Even in later years when hurting boys sometimes need to be held. There are certain situations it is good to hug and kiss a teen boy but not so often as to make him feel uncomfortable. A girl gets much of her sexual identity from her father.

A father helps his daughter to approve of herself by showing that he himself approves of her. A father ought to have a warm affectionate relationship with his daughter. If he doesn’t, she is going to doubt her feminine qualities and can have low self-esteem.

To illustrate the importance of eye and physical contact there is a strange phenomenon known as the Failure To Thrive Syndrome. In this illness, a child between 6 and 12 months ceases to develop. Often they stop eating and growing. They may actually die for no apparent reason. Why?

In most cases, the parents did not want the child. Unable to deal consciously with their feelings of rejection they rejected them through their behaviour.

They were avoiding eye and physical contact even though they were doing their job as parents by providing food, clothing etc. Keep your child’s emotional tank full with plenty of physical contact.

Focused Attention

This is giving a child our full-undivided attention for a period of time. It may require sacrifice on our part. It makes them feel they are most important to the parent at the time. All children need to feel special. Unfortunately few teens ever feel this way. We need to set aside time to spend with him alone.

This is important when there are several children in the family. Often a behavioural problem can be solved by such attention. Remember a child is constantly asking by his behaviour, ‘do you still love me?’ Undivided attention says ‘yes’.

We must set our priorities to have time for such times as these. Being alone without pressure, a child can often show their innermost thoughts. Anything troubling them can come out.

They learn to communicate with you. This is something most parents lack with their children especially during the teen years, communication, yet it is so essential.

Psychological defences come down where there can be real communication. However never force a teen to do this, it must be voluntary. Why is it many teens will not open up and talk with their parents? What they fear the most is anger, ridicule, disapproval or rejection of them on a personal consideration level.

Never treat their questions as silly or unworthy, ‘focused attention’ is the most demanding need a child has. Keep that emotional tank full.

Go To Lesson 5