listen to children

Parents – this is how to help your child with their emotions

listen to childrenI am meeting so many children and adolescents at the moment and it’s a real blessing. They are helping all of us parents understand what it is they need from us to help them when they suffer with difficult emotions. Children and adolescents are crying out to be heard, validated and listened to. And they need our time too.

That’s right, all children and all adolescents (and adults) suffer with their emotions. They are not happy when they experience anger, frustration, (or a tantrum for toddlers), rage and anxiety. They are not happy when their emotion makes them act in a certain way – hitting, screaming, punching, smashing, throwing. Infact when they do it is propelling them into a world of guilt, worry, shame and deepening an internal self-critical voice. And this is really frightening for them. Oh and if you’re child does express the above emotions, they are sensitive. Not bold.

There is no such thing as a bold child. Children have developing brains. When they experience an emotion that is difficult for us to manage they do not understand it either. Children do not plan to conspire against us. If we find their behaviour difficult we can learn the skills and qualities to support them and ourselves.

This blog explores crucial parenting skill to practice from when children are young. Parents are all aware of suicide and self-harm in young people and if we can learn the skills and qualities to support our children’s developing brains from when they are young, we are creating open dialogue, showing them emotions are difficult, it’ ok to have them and showing them we can help.

So what can parents do to help their children?

1. We can help them to not feel guilt and shame for having and expressing normal human emotions.

2. Try not to let our shame or embarrassment of the situation become the child’s

3. We can help them feel safe while they are experiencing these difficult emotions

4. Try to stay away from punishing

5. Validate their experience

6. We can show that we care, every time


1. Calm yourself, then you will be in a position to teach your child how to understand what’s happening

2. Show that you are listening and willing to understand. Connect with your child using empathy and this creates safety “I can see this is tough and I am here to help you” or “I am here to help you with this big emotion”

3. Set the boundaries “I know when we are angry we hit, but we might hurt someone or ourselves if we keep doing this”

4. Validate their experience and find out more “I can see that this is making you sad (or other emotion), I am here to help you” “Yes, that is frustrating/really tough, isn’t it?”  “can you tell/would you like to tell me what happened?”

5. Try and find a solution to the problem together. If there is no solution be kind to your child about this, making the situation as safe as possible “mmm, this isn’t an easy one to work out, so I’ll stay here with you”

Now I am a parent too. Do I do this each time one of the kids is letting me know in a not so subtle way what’s going on for them? Probably not. Am I working towards this with courage and strength? Absolutely. And it’s hard work. But so important in setting our kids up for life.  We all have tricky brains, and we can all develop the skills and qualities to know what to do about it.

The main thing that hampers this type of communication with our children is our own baggage. We all have it. The biggest gift we can ever do is to work through our baggage, so it doesn’t become their baggage too.

Bethan is a counsellor, psychotherapist and Mum of 3 living in Cork. She works 1 on 1 with parents and facilitates understanding children, nurturing parent groups. I can be contacted many ways – 083 313 0446, or @Resilient.Minds.Ireland

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