Especially through separation, it is hard to truly know what’s in the best interests for your children.  Well meaning parents can often confuse their feelings of anxiety and insecurity with those of their children.  They can misinterpret small comments or behaviours and turn a natural developmental stage into a nightmare for their children, and themselves.

Here’s how to help your children to express their feelings and find their own solutions.  This is important for any child to grow into healthy independent adults.

STEP 1: Be aware of emotions

Tune in to your child’s feelings and your own.

  • Pay attention to your own emotions, from happiness to sadness to anger.
  • Understand that emotions are a natural and valuable part of life.
  • Observe, listen, and learn how your child expresses different emotions.
  • Watch for changes in facial expressions, body language, posture, and tone of voice.
  • Notice that your feelings may be different from the child’s feelings.
  • Your own emotions may be clouded by history, keep them separate from the child’s.

STEP 2: Connect with your child

Use emotional moments as opportunities to connect.

  •  Pay close attention to a child’s emotions.
  • Try not to dismiss or avoid them.
  • See emotional moments as opportunities for teaching.
  • Recognize feelings and encourage your child to talk about his or her emotions.
  • Provide guidance before emotions escalate into misbehavior.

STEP 3: Listen to your child

Respect your child’s feelings by taking time to listen carefully.

  • Take your child’s emotions seriously.
  • Show your child that you understand what he or she is feeling.
  • Avoid judging or criticizing your child’s emotions.
  • Allow silences, give the child time to find the words he or she needs

STEP 4: Name emotions

Help your child identify and name emotions.

  • Identify the emotions your child is experiencing.
  • Don’t tell your child how he or she should feel.
  • Naming emotions helps soothe a child.
  • Set a good example by naming your own emotions and talking about them.
  • Help your child build a vocabulary for different feelings.

STEP 5: Find good solutions

Explore solutions to problems together.

  • Encourage emotional expression, but set clear limits on behaviour.
  • Help children think through possible solutions.
  • Don’t expect too much too soon.
  • Ask the child if they can think of what could be done differently if the situation occurs in future.
  • Ask the child if he or she would like you to do something about the issue.
  • If the child does want you to intervene explore options with the child so that the result remains
    within his or her power and control.
  • If there is serious potential harm explain to the child that you will have to intervene.


Image Credit: Jason Rogers via Flickr

Problems or just normal behaviour?  Image Credit: Jason Rogers via Flickr


John Gottman’s Emotion Coaching
Adapted from: