How do you react when your child is unhappy?

 Kathy Will Be in Ontario

If you are looking for a quality parenting workshop in your workplace, a professional development event for your staff who work with children and families, or a workshop for parents in your community and you are based in Ontario, I have good news. I will be in Ottawa in mid October and in Toronto in early December. You win because you get a quality event with no travel costs and I win because I get to work with you and your people.  Contact me and let’s make this happen.

What Can I Offer?

I offer keynotes and workshops, have written books and have ongoing newspaper columns, books, blogs and newsletters.

And, no matter what the actual topic, they all share a basic value that I call:

P.U.R.E. Parenting.

P — is a parenting plan

U — is unconditional love

R — is respect for your child as he is right now

E — is encouragement

These make up the framework of any resources that will come from Parenting Today. These four pillars are the essential ingredients for raising healthy children who will develop into capable young men and women.


It would be nice to believe that life is always rosy but there are times that are not so pleasant. How do you help your kids with their negative feelings?

Grappling with Negative Feelings

It’s difficult to watch our children grappling with what we would define as negative feelings. We want their lives to be happy, serene, successful and positive.

All too often when our children express sadness, anxiety or worry we try to appease them. “It’s okay dear,” or “You’re too young to worry, let me do the worrying for you,” or “Don’t be silly, everything is just fine.”

Children experience the full range of human emotions. However, they often go through a feeling without understanding what’s happening. So it’s our job to help them define the feeling. When they are learning to speak we point out objects and label them; that’s a table, that’s a wall. We do the same with feelings. “It looks like your feeling anxious about your first day at school”. “Boy, that’s the behavior of one angry kid.”

Then we listen.  “Do you want to talk about it?” And this can be challenging for most of us because we want to tell them that it will be okay, or that we have been through the same thing and understand exactly what they’re feeling, or tell them how they can get past it. Interestingly, adults also do that to each other and I don’t know about you, but it drives me nuts! When I’m upset, hurt or angry I don’t want to be appeased. I don’t want to hear that everything happens for a reason. I want to be heard. I want to talk about my unique and special feeling. I want to be heard.

Our children want to be heard. So listen. Listen and just acknowledge what you’re hearing by saying something like “Uh-huh” or occasionally paraphrasing to make certain you’re getting it, “So you’re worried that when you go to school you won’t be able to make friends, is that right?”

Once you have listened and are clear on the problem guide them to the answer. “What do you think you could do to solve this problem?” If they have no ideas present some as possibilities rather than answers. “What do you think would happen if you went up to one of the kids and just said hi?” You can also remind him of the time he made at preschool by saying, “Do you remember how you and Michael became friends?”

But what about when she’s spraying her feelings all over the room? She comes in after school, slams the door, throws her books and coat on the floor, insults her sister, screams at you that life sucks, really sucks, aims a kick at the dog and tears down the hall to her room.

Now there are two issues. She’s angry, that’s clear. But her behaviour is totally inappropriate. Before you can deal with that however, she’s going to have to calm down. It may be that she needs some time alone to vent. Offer to listen. Respect her choice. If she’s ready to talk, then listen. If she wants to be alone tell her you’ll be ready to listen when she wants to talk.

Later, when she’s calmed down, deal with her behavior. She needs to reconcile with her sister and the dog. Maybe she can read a story to her sister and take the dog for walk. She needs to know that there are better ways to handle anger. It’s okay to storm around when you’re angry, but it’s not okay to hurt another person or animal by insults or kicks. Develop a plan. When she’s angry she’s to go outside and run around until she’s calmer. Then when she storms into the house, you can lead her outdoors to work off her energy in a safe and healthy way.

Crying is another dilemma for parents. We hate to see them cry so end up consoling them and saying, “There, there, don’t cry.”  A better message is, “That’s okay, I’m here with you.” Crying is often the most appropriate response to a bad situation. Whether it’s pain, emotional hurt or grief; crying is just fine. But it sure helps to know you’re not alone and someone is there to look after you.

Parents sometimes find themselves becoming embroiled in their children’s feelings. Emma is anxious about exams and Mom becomes anxious for her. It can be tough but remember they are her exams and it’s her anxiety. Your job is to live your life, deal with your emotions and be there for her while she studies.

Let your children own their feelings, positive and negative, teach them how to recognize what they’re feeling and help them to deal with and work through their problems. Then your kids are going to develop good mental health into adulthood.


Posted in Family Concerns, News, Preschoolers, School-Age, Teens, Toddlers | 1 Comment

One Response to How do you react when your child is unhappy?

  1. Helene says:

    Reminds me of the book I am just reading Talk to your adolescent so they can listen and listen so your adolescent can talk….We just want to solve it for them. Now my kids are 12 and 9 and it is clear that’s not what they want. They want my presences and my understanding but “they” want to solve it with my support not MY solution for them…It took a few OOPS but we’re on the mends and slowly getting to better and quicker solutions that they are comfortable with.

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