Motherhood

How to Help a Child After a Bad Day

How to Help a Child After a Bad Day

As soon as I walk in the door after work…

I can immediately tell if Toby or Anton had a rough day. They’ll walk up, say “Mommmmmmmy” and slump onto me. Their stressed little faces break my heart, and for years, my first instinct was to try to make it better.

Problem with a friend? It will be fine tomorrow, I’m sure! Tough time on a test? You’ll figure it out! Teacher gave you a time out? You’re still a great kid!

But now, over time, I’ve realized what the boys really want: for me just to be there.

I recently read a great article in the Washington Post, and here’s what it said:

“Parents are taking so much responsibility for their children’s mood and spirit that it feels like it’s your job to reset as soon as possible,” says Wendy Mogel, clinical psychologist and the author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Raising Self-Reliant Children. “It deprives them of the opportunity to be crabby and cross when they finish school or at the end of a day of camp.”

Part of the reason kids may be upset when they get home is that home is “the soft landing,” Mogel says. It’s the place they feel comfortable enough to get it all out. “They followed all those rules all day. They were polite to all the teachers. It’s exhausting”…

She suggests parents practice “reflective listening.” So, for instance, a child comes home and is frustrated after a tough day in math class. The parent then says, “Wow, it sounds like math was really overwhelming today.” Then the child says something else, and the parent reflects their feelings back to them. “Each time they feel heard, it brings the emotion down and they can see it for what it is,” she says.

Doesn’t that ring true? Now if the boys are upset after a long day, I let them vent in a calm space. I’ll repeat back their emotions and validate their feelings. And I’ve been surprised by how well that simple approach has worked. After getting things off their chest, they almost always feel better and go off to play with their toys or read a book or (true to form) beg for more dessert.

Thoughts? What do you do when your child has a bad day? What do you crave for yourself at the end of a long one?

P.S. Home as a haven, and how to get your kids to talk at dinner. Also, remember this dad’s playful way to turn a bad day around?

(Photo by Lena Corwin.)

  1. Kristin Hicks says...

    I’ve been trying to use this strategy with my daughters. My 5 year old was sick and had to miss an entire week of school, including an evening event at her school that she had really been looking forward to. When she realized she had missed the event, she was devastated. My first instinct was to try to cheer her up “there will be more events! Let’s do a craft at home like we would have done there!” but I opted instead to just hold her, validate her feelings, let her cry and cry and fully feel the emotion. I once read that if you can embrace your kids’ “bad” feelings when they’re young, they will continue to show you their inner world when they’re older and you don’t want them to shut you out. I hope to be a soft landing for her throughout her life, so she never feels like she has to swallow down her feelings around me.

  2. Rachel says...

    something I have to remember, and this article helped…my kid isnt the only one who has ever received a timeout. Sometimes you feel like its just your kid. And then ask yourself where you went wrong that its your kid.

  3. This is so fantastic and such a great reminder. I grew up with really wonderful parents and my mom for sure tried to instantly fix anything that I brought to her. I told her everything for decades, and still do. But sometimes even now (at 33, with a 1 and 3 yr old) when I call I get so exasperated when she interrupts me to tell me spiritedly how this is just a phase, it gets better/easier, Im such a great mom, etc. I always remind her I really, truly, just need a minute to vent to someone who understands, and if I need actual advice I’ll ask for it :) I just want to feel HEARD and this post is such a perfect reminder that OF COURSE that’s what my kids want, too.

    But it’s not gonna keep me from wanting to solve all of their problems for them, deep down ;) Please re-publish this post at least annually to keep some of us meddlers from becoming the moms who go to high school and deck the bully…

  4. Courtney says...

    I love this. I can (almost) always tell, too, and have asked “Are you having a tough day?” so often that the kids will now proactively give us a heads up: “I’m having a tough time.” As in, I can’t function at full capacity right now, I’m too mixed up to be polite/engage in normal conversations/parse out what’s wrong. Sometimes they want to talk about it, sometimes not, but either way it’s an easy way for us to realize that they need a little leeway and some extra hugs while they sort out their feelings.

  5. Thanks for the post, Jo. I totally needed this reminder. We are just a couple months into kindergarten and who was her first fast friend and instant buddy from day one decided this week she “needs space” and won’t play with her any more. And in typical queen bee fashion, this friend has influence to make the rest of the cohort not play with her. Oof. I’m trying my best to not “fix it,” because my knee jerk reaction is to try to go nuclear: get in touch with this girl’s parents and arrange for teacher led mediation. Deep breaths…. A little conflict is how we learn grit. There will be hundreds more slights in her future and what matters more is that she knows her parents will be there to support her.

  6. Jess says...

    We call this practice “sportscasting,” which I think gives it a bit of levity in contrast to “reflective listening.” I find myself doing it all the time, and especially when I’m feeling unsure of what else to do. I feel that way often in those moments when my kids feel uncomfortable or are out of sorts. So I’ve found that just giving words to their discomfort can be pretty helpful for all of us. It gives me a minute to suss out what is actually happening and it gives them a chance to exhale.

    Have you read the children’s book “The Rabbit Listened”? The genderless protagonist in the book has their blocks creation come crashing down. After a parade of different animals appear to help the child remember, cry, destroy, talk, the child ultimately finds comfort in the warm body of the rabbit. Who just sits there and listens. I feel like these two approaches–the sportscasting and presentness–are actually quite related and sympathetic. Though parenting remains a constant struggle of self doubt and rumination, I think we would all be more comfortable if we returned to these strategies more often.

  7. Beth says...

    When my kids have a bad day, we will occasionally make nachos for dinner because today was Nacho Day… (get it?). There is something about talking about your bad day over salty cheesy goodness that helps to turn it around.

    • Jess says...

      And a little levity usually helps! I love this!

  8. Bridget Rolston says...

    Loved this article. I have four children and after school most days they saunter up to me to-(as my husband puts it) “get out all their words”. Which means to just have a wee vent good or bad about their day. I kind of love it!

  9. Heather says...

    I’m going to email this to my husband so he can take it into practice for ME! I’m always telling him that while I sincerely appreciate his desire to fix my work stresses/ life problems, what I really want is to just vent.

    • So much this! Husbands and their need to “fix” things…

  10. Love, love, love this. And as many other comments noted, it’s true for adults too. I often get hung up on wanting to “fix” things that really aren’t broken, but just need to be voiced in order to move on.

  11. I can’t recall if you posted about this book but I just started reading Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan and it as such great information related to this topic! Basically just repeat what they stated and keep asking for more information (i.e. don’t do what I instinctively want to do which is solve all their problems).

  12. This is totally true for our 8 year old too! …and it works for me too if I just want to tell my husband something that made me feel badly;)

  13. Julia says...

    In my family, we all love to talk and it is so hard to listen to one of us talking without interrupting – and also by looking at the one without moving about the room etc. I learned that there is almost no bigger gift to give to each other than our full attention, an open ear, and time. We can see how everybody feels better only by truly being heard.

  14. Annie says...

    I agree with this 100% and think it perfectly relates to couples as well. Oftentimes, I want to vent to my husband, and just want his acknowledgement of the ‘shittiness’ of my situation or day. I in no way want him to ‘fix’ it. We’ve talked about this and he’s much better at reflective listening now. I will do the same for my 3 year old after reading this.

  15. Yes, Joanna! I recently picked up How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and the first chapter is all about how to do this well. I’m realizing that in my quest to be positive, resilient, and optimistic, I’m downright horrible at just acknowledging and listening. I’m working on it! Thank you for the reminder. https://feedingthesoil.com/2019/11/04/how-to-talk-so-kids-will-listen/

    • Mina says...

      Love “How to talk” so much. Also Siblings without Rivalry by the same authors!

    • Yes, Mina! I keep going back to Siblings Without Rivalry, too! I love when the authors push you to imagine what it would feel like if your partner came home and said, “I love having you in my life so much that I want to get married to another person just like you!” It really puts sibling-hood into perspective and makes me have more empathy for what they are going through!

  16. Laura says...

    You really inspire me to be a better Mama, Jo. I appreciate that COJ is such a resource for me as a woman AND as a mother!

    • Mary says...

      Same! I started reading CoJ in 2012, 3 years before I was about to become a mother myself. I was always in anticipation of the Motherhood Mondays series. I’ve always wanted to apply what I’ve read, and see how it goes for me and my kids.

  17. Lisa says...

    Back when my youngest was about 8, I picked him up at the end of the day from his after school program. We had barely left the building when he just sort of sagged and told me he had ‘the worst day’. After the highlight reel (he is a very dramatic boy), I offered to make him a warm cup of tea with a cookie and suggested he have some quiet time on the sofa. He then cried a little and said: “that’s the best thing I’ve heard all day!”. On their rough days, I keep coming back to that moment when he was overwhelmed and just needed some tea and sympathy.

    We so often minimize our kid’s feelings because their worries seem so small and temporary to ours… but they are big to them! They haven’t been here before or lived through these feelings before.

    • Anne says...

      Aw this is the sweetest thing. And also – am I your son? Because tea and a cookie on the couch is what I need after a hard day too

  18. Thank you for sharing this – Even though I’ve known this and have discussed this with a friend (how our kids just seem to be more whiny and not in control of their emotions, and how we seem to be a dump for their negative feelings), on some days it’s still hard to not be affected by their emotions, because I feel like it’s my job to make them feel better. What a good reminder again that our kids just want to feel heard, by the people they love and feel the most safe with.

  19. Rue says...

    I am learning self-parenting strategies, which is a specific set of tools designed for trauma survivors, because many of us didn’t receive these essential tools in childhood.

    My FAVORITE one so far is to validate your needs, especially when they’re not met. When the world tells you that you can’t have something right now, it’s never because your NEED was invalid/a problem. It’s just the circumstances that are to blame, not your want/hope/wish/need. The idea is to say to yourself, “Of COURSE you wanted that job!” or “no WONDER you’re feeling upset because of the weather. when you’re cold it really is harder to concentrate on your work.”

    My internal fear isn’t really about things not panning out the way I expect. My fear is more about: what if I’M wrong? What if I don’t belong, shouldn’t be here, aren’t “allowed” to want, aren’t “allowed” to take up space or to be the person I know I am? Will other people shun me if they see the real me? So reassuring myself about that underlying fear makes me much more able to weather the overt storm that it looks like I’m struggling against.

    • Twyla says...

      Rue – do you follow the Holistic Psychologist on Instagram? She talks a lot about re-parenting. It’s really insightful.

    • Molly K says...

      Found myself reading this comment again and again to soak up the wisdom you’ve gained. It speaks to me, even though I’m not recovering from any particular trauma. Thanks for sharing!

    • Meg says...

      Rue, I like your comment so much I’ve screenshotted it on my phone to remember later. Thank you!

  20. Elizabeth PFB says...

    This is important! I have often tried to rush in and encourage my children to feel grateful for what is good in their lives, as an attempt to put things in perspective. Then I read:

    “Saying you can’t be sad because someone else has it worse is like saying you can’t be happy because someone else has it better.”

    • Emily L says...

      I so agree! I really hate it when something bad has happened to me and I confide in someone only for them to say “If it makes you feel better” and proceed to tell me about something shitty that happened to them. How on earth does that make me feel better?? Now I’m still feeling like crap about my thing, feeling like crap about your thing, and feeling guilty about feeling that way because now it seems like my thing isn’t a big deal.

  21. Sarah says...

    Simple but super helpful advice, thanks so much for posting this!

  22. Rebecca says...

    This reminds me of the picture book “the rabbit listened”. When I read it with my toddler it is a good reminder for me to be the rabbit and wait for him to tell me what’s wrong. We often project how we might feel in tough situations onto them and it’s best to let them work through it and share when they are ready. The book gives parents this reminder while letting the kids know that it’s ok to experience all these emotions (which are represented with animals) when things don’t go our way.

    • We love that book at our house too :-)

    • Kelsey says...

      We LOVE this book at our house too! It is one of my favorite gifts for young children.

    • Jess says...

      I just mentioned this book in my comment as well. I find that little rabbit to be such a helpful guide! If all else fails, be a warm blanket. And just be.

  23. Lisa says...

    This is timely. I don’t know what is up, but my little girl (who’s just about 2) is throwing massive tantrums. Partially i think is that it’s her age, she’s testing boundaries, but she only does it with her parents. This morning her teacher was telling me that she’s such a delight at nursery, this is after it took me half an hour to get her jacket and shoes on and multiple meltdowns over cereal.

    I have to just keep reminding myself that she’s testing the limits and venting with us

    • Bets says...

      Lisa, I am with you. My 2 yr old is the same way. Sending you both love, hugs and stomping feet from us <3

    • Leanne says...

      My favourite advice was something along the lines of when they’re being reasonable to say “It sure is hard being (age)!” It puts it into perspective that tiny people aren’t grown ups. Yes, sometimes I want to lay on the floor and fuss too, but I’m 35 so I don’t. But my husband and I will often say, “Gosh, it’s a lot being 4!” and you know what? It is.

      Also, she fusses with you because she feels safe and knows that she can. She works so hard to be “on” all day at nursery so everyone sees her as this delightful little person, but it takes a lot of energy to do that. It’s like coming home from a day of work where you’ve had to be on your A-game all day. She can melt down and push boundaries in front of you because she knows she’s loved. That means you’re doing a fantastic job. You’ve got this, mama.

    • Audra says...

      It’s not partially because she’s 2– it’s totally, completely because she’s 2 :)! She’s doing all the normal heathy things at this age. She’ll mature, it won’t last, and you’ll make it through! I feel your pain. I did a lot of googling “terrible twos” when our first went through it and got a lot of skills to mostly weather it out and be patient til they had more of their wits about them. It was also a matter of keying into their new needs, expectations and oftentimes emotional overload. That age is a real growing time for parents too. Good luck!

  24. Sarah says...

    I’m 42 and this is exactly the reaction I want when I have a bad day too! There’s nothing better than someone just listening and not trying to solve your problems. And maybe giving you some chocolate and a kiss too!

  25. Alyssa says...

    True for grown ups too! Whenever I have a tough day at work and need to vent to my partner at home, the last thing I want is for him to try and fix the problem. I want to feel heard and to be told that it’s ok for me to have the feelings I’m having.

    • Kat says...

      Exactly this! We all need this!

  26. Tori says...

    This sounds like the book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”

  27. Amanda says...

    This is a good way to help children AND adults. I instantly feel better after a bad moment when I feel *heard* and validated(if need be) when talking to my husband or coworkers about it. Such a good technique, it’s a great tool for kids to help navigate the confusing world of emotional expression and response. We can feel bad and that’s ok. Being heard and listened to helps these big emotions dissolve.

  28. Bev says...

    Wendy Mogel’s book is the only one we read on parenting. It gave us enough insight to get them to 14 and now we’re reading her book about teens.

  29. Hilary says...

    Also adding, Sondra Boynton has a book we love called “Happy Hippo, Angry Duck: A Book of Moods.” It’s a short and sweet story about how we all have different moods and they change frequently (and that’s okay!).

  30. Ally says...

    This works for adults, too. Even if you think a person’s reaction to something is ‘inappropriate’ or excessive or not the one you think you would have, try to see their point of view enough to say something like “that does sound upsetting”. I think that so much of our stress actually comes from repressing our natural reaction to something instead of just feeling it with respect and acceptance for a while, which actually makes it easier to set things aside eventually and move on.

  31. Nina Nattiv says...

    One of my twins (6 yo) is much more emotional than her sister. She just needs to cry or rage. Recently she’s taught herself to go to another room, scream and cry, and then come back with a totally different mood. I stay calm, I don’t mind the emotions, I don’t judge when she comes back. I’m so proud of her!

    • Lucy says...

      We have six-year old female twins and same exactly!! Nice to know someone else is in the same boat :-)

  32. Michelle says...

    I love this. I try to not pepper them with too many questions on the ride home and the first few minutes. I just say “I missed you so much!” and let them talk when they’re ready.

  33. Mae says...

    This is so real. I’m a full adult, and my whole life the only person who has ever done this for me is my own mother. (Because it’s kind of presumptuous, right? To say, “you must feel embarrassed/frustrated/sad.”) Yet, whenever she does that I feel it in my heart–so seen. I didn’t even have the name for it, but yes, so simple–I feel embarrassed/frustrated/sad.

    What a gift, and a great reminder.

  34. Leigh says...

    Such a smart post on parenting. Simple listening and empathy is best. So many good book recos. I’d add The Rabbit Listened.

  35. Joanna Schoff says...

    I work with teens and they (on a whole) can not deal with any disappointment. Stress easily and have great difficulty dealing with things that don’t go their way.
    I wonder what is causing this.
    Perhaps too much parent saving the day and protecting. I don’t know. Validating kids feelings are important. Im a bit old school and find myself saying this a lot
    ” things are not going to work out your way all the time … push through it. “

  36. AP says...

    My kids are both bright, with an enormous helping of learning difficulties (ADHD-I, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia). School is HARD for them. On particularly bad days, I like to put the focus on their resilience and determination in the face of adversity. We also rally around the hurting kid as a family- reminding them of what they’re awesome at, making a special snack, letting them choose a show to watch. I never would have asked for all of these challenges, but I also would never trade the empathy and family bonds that have grown because of them ❤️.

  37. Kellie P says...

    One thing I really struggle with is mirroring others’ emotions. If my kids/spouse are crabby, I immediately get crabby. I am going to try really hard to be a soft place to land….

  38. Alyssa says...

    I love Daniel Siegel’s idea in “Parenting from the Inside Out” that it is hard to give empathy we haven’t been given and to learn to be more empathic with our own emotions – including anxiety, sadness, fatigue, and frustration, including — the challenge of responding to distressed children. ;)

    I often think of giving myself an empathy fill before I can give it to children, rubbing my own hand or arm and saying to myself, “This is hard, It is okay to be stressed, this is a lot to regulate.”

    And also this great list for everybody in the family:

    Your feelings are important.
    Your feelings and wishes are okay, even if your actions aren’t.
    Experiencing difficult emotions, such as sadness, anger or fear, is important.
    Difficult feelings are a chance for people to grow closer.
    Understanding what causes feelings is important.
    Difficult feelings are an opportunity for learning and growing.

    • Cait says...

      Your comment was so helpful to me just now, Alyssa! Thank you for reminding me to Give myself space to recognize my own emotions and reactions!

  39. Annie says...

    What a wonderful practice to do with adults too!

    • jones says...

      That was my thought too. I do not have kids, but thought this is so applicable to adults too. I have had a terrible year and a half with a sibling dying and my mom being sick. People cannot fix what is wrong, but it helps when people listen, acknowledge my feelings and are present.

  40. Holly says...

    I love this! I grew up hearing “don’t be mad.” A lot! And as a person who feels anger rather easily it’s hard to learn as an adult that anger can be productive and healthy if managed well. My 4 year old just started preschool and he is exhausted when I pick him up and often expresses that by being rude and angry to me or his younger brother. I understand it! But I’d love to hear Anyone’s thoughts on how to help him by giving him a safe place to have all his feelings but a boundary of not being unkind to others. Often I don’t know how to address his mean outbursts since it’s the worst time in the world to actually discipline him. He loves school and has no problems there so I know he’s just so tired from being on the whole morning at school.

    • Alyssa says...

      Our 3-year-old son has the same issue. We’ve started telling him, “It’s okay to be (mad, tired, exhausted) but it’s not okay to (yell, be rude, etc.).” Giving him suggestions on how he can get what he needs to process his emotions and phrases to use has also helped, e.g.: “Are you available to cuddle?”, “I don’t feel like talking right now”, or “I need some space”. It seems he typically just needs some quiet time after pick-up and being able to assert this need with his own words has allowed everyone to feel respected and heard. Hope you find something that helps!

    • Simone says...

      I started writing a response but really I’m not in a position to give advice – could use it more than I could give it. My 3yr old son also recently started preschool, also loves it and also comes home with a lot of emotions! Anger is something that he experiences and I wonder how much is it the age, how much is just his personality. I struggle with this balance as well (showing respect for his feelings while not allowing him to streamroll everyone else).

    • Fernanda says...

      Read Janet Lansbury book: No bad kids, toddler discipline without shame. She also has a wonderful podcast called ‘unruffled’. She completely changed my way of parenting for the best!

    • Julia L says...

      I heard a parenting/family therapist give a wonderful summation of what you’re talking about: “acknowledge feelings, limit behavior”. I love that phrase, and it’s served me well as a parent–and just as a person. I am not the most self-aware person, so if I’m in a bad mood, I have to actively prod myself to think about why I’m irritable (acknowledging my feelings!), and then remind myself that feeling bad does NOT mean I have a free pass to be as unpleasant as possible (limiting my behavior).

    • M says...

      I have a three year old who LOVES Daniel Tiger and that show is a wealth of advice on dealing with preschooler emotions. One of the sayings is “it’s ok to be mad sometimes, it’s not ok to hurt someone.” We repeat that (along with allllllllll of the other life lessons from that show) a lot. I think it’s in line with what everyone else is saying here – you can say, “I understand that you’re mad/cranky/upset/etc.” and also say “it’s not ok to hurt someone’s body/feelings/etc.” Those are not inconsistent. I try to voice my kid’s emotions back to him “I see you’re tired/cranky/mad/frustrated/disappointed” and then ask what I can do to help. Sometimes by the time I’m done voicing his emotions to him, he’s done and over it.

    • Hannah says...

      There’s an episode of Daniel Tiger that helped us by providing a framework of it’s OK to be angry or frustrated, stomp your feet three times, see if you worked some of it off then repeat as needed. There’s a nice catchy song that goes with it, too. And quite honestly, sometimes, we just let the anger burst (as long as he’s not hurting anyone) and then use it as a teachable moment later. At 4, they can generally understand and take lessons from situations.

      Another thing I do after school is to take a pause to eat something. I literally call it a pause and tell my son that we can go back to angry as soon as the handful of goldfish or teddy grahams or whatever is finished. The goal in calling it a pause is to make sure it doesn’t look like we’re eating our feelings, that’s also why I don’t do it just any old time where he’s angry or frustrated – it’s tied to school pickup rather than his mood. But quite often, after a long day, it’s snack time anyway and bad feelings are so much worse on low blood sugar. Most of the time, he starts the conversation and tells me who told on him and what frustrated him at school as he’s finishing his snack. He’s a kid with sensory issues, so I think the crunching also helps him balance himself out a bit, too.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s smart advice to make sure they’re not hungry/hangry. maybe this is TMI, but another thing we do when the boys are spiraling out is to ask them to pee. sometimes they just really need to pee and that’s what’s making them so cranky, but they don’t realize it!

    • Holly says...

      Wow! Thank you moms! My heart is swelling just knowing how many are in the same boat. I’ll be doing all of the above and the unruffled podcast is queued up!

      Had to laugh at the advice to pee. The other day I was so mad and impatient with my kids who were taking an eternity to clean up and then realized I had to pee so bad! I was way calmer after taking care of that . 😏. So great advice for the young and not so you!

  41. Kristen says...

    On the subject of letting your kids sit with their emotions, I highly recommend a book that my 7 year old bought home from school called The Rough Patch.
    It’s about Evan, a fox, who loves to work in his magnificent garden with his beloved pet dog. When his dog dies, Evan feels so heartbroken that he destroys the garden and lets weeds take over. He wants it to be as ugly as he feels. After time, a pumpkin vine grows in under the fence and he lets it grow until he has an immense pumpkin and feels the pull of the county fair and his old routines.
    Although it’s about grief, I cannot tell you how many times we have referenced this book when my son is upset about something much less serious. I love the message that it is reasonable to feel terrible sometimes, and that there will be a way out even if it takes awhile.

    • agnes says...

      that seems like a great book, thanks for the recommendation.

    • Erin says...

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’m going to find it. Evan the fox sounds just like my son when he gets upset.

    • Sarah says...

      We got that book from the library recently. So moving! Made me tear up every time i read it to my daughter. I second this recommendation

  42. rose says...

    Perfect wisdom. And me? I love a real hug.

  43. Jamie says...

    Totally agree with this. I think it gets more important as the kiddos get older!

  44. Such great advice. I know the moment my kids get off the bus whether or not their day was a good one. It’s on their faces, either bright eyed or crestfallen. It’s so tempting to want to swoop them up in emotional bubble wrap and quickly fix any little dents.

  45. Lora says...

    This is a great reminder. It falls in line with something I’ve been trying to be better about with my toddler daughter – when she is sad or upset, I used to comfort her while saying, “You’re okay” or “It’s fine.” Then a few weeks ago, I realized how invalidating that is. Now I try to reflect back her experience, “I’m sure it hurt when you hit the doorframe” or “that loud noise was scary.” I hope she feels more validated, but if nothing else it helps me feel more connected to her. I feel like in those moments, I’m reminded that she experiences hard or scary things every day and always seems to soldier on after a cry and cuddle. It gives me respect for her resilience, strength, and courage.

    • Kristie says...

      I feel the same way, I feel like the assurance of “you’re ok” doesn’t ring true if they’re actually not ok! I’m trying to do the same with my toddler, empathising, reflecting and giving names for feelings. It takes patience to be mindful and aware, but I feel like it helps so much!!

    • Katie says...

      While comforting my two year old who was fussy and sad about taking a nap I told her “You’re okay.” She replied “I’m not okay.” After a quick apology I changed my words to “You’re safe and loved.” These small humans teach us so much!

  46. Em says...

    I am not a mother, but I am an adult who is currently in therapy working to heal from a childhood where my emotions were not validated or heard by my parents. This post made my heart sing because it is exactly what I needed and still need as an adult! I’m working to be a better listener to my friends, family, and partner, when they come to me with their emotions, and just join them in their struggle. My instinct, too, is to be a “fixer” and it’s hard to correct but so necessary. Thank you <3

    • Lauren says...

      Just a comment in solidarity of working through adult emotions without a childhood framework in therapy!! It is not easy but has been so gratifying and powerful. You’re doing the good work!

    • Em says...

      Thank you so much Lauren! What you wrote: “It is not easy but has been so gratifying and powerful” is precisely my experience as well. Best wishes to you on this journey!

    • Kirsten says...

      I am a parent and am also doing this!! It’s really hard to be a mirror for their emotions when they trigger all kinds of discomfort you have with your own emotions left over from the way you were treated as a child! After working on this for the past two years I’ve been a parent I think half the battle is working on yourself!!

  47. sarah says...

    This advice is parenting gold and actually is a great way to discipline small children. Let me explain. At 8 months my baby started head banging and I was terrified, so I made an appointment with a social worker who specialized in infant and child development. Though not true for all babies, it turns out she was having baby tantrums?!? The medicine: acknowledge her feelings and give her a hug. She’s two now. Last week she threw a fit because she wanted to move around the furniture in her room, right at bedtime, and of course I had to say no. Screaming ensued. I gave her a big hug and told her “you’re so mad, this must be so hard” and she calmed right down within a minute. You acknowledge their feelings while still setting boundaries. Now if only I could get her to sleep through the night. Ha!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you sound like the nicest mom. <3

    • Mollie Whalen says...

      You sound like an amazing mom who set boundaries and is also extremely nurturing! Your daughter is so lucky!

    • sarah says...

      Thank-you! :)

  48. Em says...

    My sweet daughter is almost 2 and when she gets angry lately she runs to the laundry room and stands in the corner crying/emoting. Sometimes when her stomach hurts she does the same thing (she has tummy issues). It’s hard to bear her being by herself like that and hurting, whether she’s emotionally upset or in physical pain. I follow her, but she will say “no” and slap at my hand if I reach for her. I’m not sure how to handle this. Do I let her vent (or be in pain) by herself for a while or ???

    • DT says...

      After validating my 2yo feelings (ex: You’re really sad Daddy had to go to work. You want him to stay and play) I like to ask him if he wants a hug when he’s upset. Sometimes it’s a yes. Sometime he wants to cry/be upset for awhile longer. I feel like it gives him a bit of control in a situation he’s not in charge of.

    • Ali says...

      Are you familiar with the concept of a calm down space? Do a quick search on google or pinterest and you’ll see lots of ideas. As a teacher, it’s nice to be able to give students a safe space to process what they are feeling, and it seems like you daughter has already identified that physical space. You can add a bin with a feeling book, sensory toys, whatever you think may work for her, so she can process alone and then rejoin when ready. Obviously, you wouldn’t expect her to know what to do with these things automatically, and no one is ready to learn when they’re having intense emotions, so be sure to introduce the items in the calm down bin and teach her how to use them when she is already calm.

      I have no idea how to best react when it’s her tummy. I don’t have my own kids (just school kids and my first due in March!), but it sounds so frustrating and helpless as a parent. Good luck!

    • Rebecca says...

      Em, what a tough problem! It’s so hard to see them upset and know that you can comfort it if they’d just let you. My advice (for what it’s worth — I’m a psychologist but I don’t specialize in kids that young) is to say something like “I can see you’re feeling (xyz). I’m going to be right here if you’d like a cuddle, or if you need anything else.” And then sit near her quietly doing your own thing — maybe fold some laundry, pet the dog, just not on your phone. She may come to you pretty quickly in that no-pressure situation, or she may figure it out on her own. I hope this helps!

    • shelley says...

      My child is similar. He doesn’t want touch when he’s upset. I stay nearby and say I am here for you, this is so hard. I love you no matter what. Just stay nearby and be reassuring. It seems to help him!

    • Charlotte says...

      One of my children does this. I come close to her but try not to invade her space and say things like “ you don’t have to be alone when you feel like this” and remind her that I love her and nothing she can do can change that. She will usually crack after a few minutes and turn to me for comfort in floods of tears.

    • Elizabeth PFB says...

      It’s so interesting how different we all are! When I am upset and angry, I feel too raw to be touched. My husband, on the other hand, feels comforted by touch. It took us YEARS to realize that we were giving each another the attention (or lack of) that we craved ourselves, instead of what the other needed! It’s the same with children.

  49. Amy says...

    Joanna, this is a lovely reminder of the power of empathy. It works with our children, with our partners, with our friends…it’s a great gift to be with our children during those big emotions, giving them space to FEEL. It’s not always easy, but always worth it.

  50. Emily says...

    I find that listening with no agenda is almost always the antidote to whatever ails the speaker. It gets harder as my child gets older but it’s also an exercise in my own healing. When we rush to fix, we run the risk of handicapping our children’s ability to get through their own troubles AND it’s likely the child will continue to encounter whatever is troubling them b/c they’ll never learn how to move past it. When my son is upset, I listen with eye contact or physical contact (holding his hand or snuggling him), offer occasional mm-hmms or nods to affirm what he is saying, validate his emotions (I understand why that is upsetting, you’re having the right reaction, etc.), and ask if he wants my help resolving (if he is in conflict). There is something so utterly comforting about having people in your life who can just listen, hear you and see you.

    In our family we have a saying, The only way out is through – I think this is a Robert Frost quote. It helps remind us that to get through hard times you have to go through hard times.

  51. Hilary says...

    YESSS love this. I like to ask my students and my husband if they want to vent or they want advice. 99% of the time they just want to vent and be heard.

    • Ali says...

      I totally agree. Sometimes it’s great just to have someone say, “I hear you. I see you. This sucks.” I don’t need you to fix it. I just need you to listen.

    • NN says...

      This is amazing and I’m going to steal it!

  52. Ceridwen says...

    My youngest daughter is going through a very hard time at the moment. She is six and has a painful condition that we are all getting our heads around, but especially her. It has been beautiful watching my eldest daughter, 10, who went through her own health problems earlier in the year, support her through listening, gently making observations about her progress or set backs with such care and empathy, being playful and funny but knowing when to hold back. To see them interact like this has been so heartening. Our older daughter has really matured through this and our youngest has never felt more connected to her big sister. We are learning from them.

  53. Wow, that’s good insight for children AND adults. When I’m feeling crummy and let it out to my partner, she’s always excellent at just listening. I end up feeling so comforted that she’s acknowledged my stress/fear/frustration in a real way. Now I plan to use this practice for all the people in my life, young and old :)

  54. Nora says...

    These are such great comments and tools to help kids. Any ideas of how to help a 12 yr old boy manage biiiiig emotions kindly? He has a tendency to take it out on his younger siblings by being mean to them, name-calling Etc. My husband and I want to create a space that is safe for all emotions, but also set boundaries for unacceptable behaviors.

    • Julia says...

      Oh yes, recognize this one.
      My son is seven and has the tendency to get really big tantrums. When he was calm we figured out that it really helps him to cool off in his room (and, since it was his idea he doesn’t feel like he’s been send off to deal with this alone)
      I let him vent but when he explodes and I just add to his raging emotions I ask him to go upstairs and tell him I will come soon to talk. He is almost always calmed down and ready to talk about what really upset him (usually he masks his vulnerable emotions with anger)
      He feels in control and more in touch with his emotions and the plus side is that he rarely has an tantrum now.
      Hope this helps, sending you good thoughts, it can be really tough.

    • Megan says...

      Word. My newly 13 year old is taking it out on a big old pillow. He putts the pouf in a chair and just punches it. Otherwise, I make him take his feelings outside for a bike ride or a walk. (Not the way I phrase it to him.)
      Additionally, I’m noticing that as my boys get older, the amount of time it takes to access their feelings is increasing. Now I sometimes have to sit with them for an hour, helping with homework or listening about Minecraft before we get to the heart of their emotions.

    • Dena says...

      I’m here for any advice about this, too! (Says the mom of a nine-year-old girl.)

    • Elizabeth PFB says...

      My 14 year old daughter does this, too, and I am so tired of her using our youngest as her personal whipping boy. I did the same thing with my younger sister, so you’d think I would have some insight, but I don’t.

    • Nora says...

      Megan, Julia, thank you! I love the idea of taking the feelings outside. And he has a ginormous pillow in his room he could use, too. I love this community of smart, thoughtful, kind people!!

  55. K says...

    About every 6 weeks my child is suddenly emotional over everything that ever happened in school. Instinct had me handing out advice to solve the problems but then he gave another issue. After a few cycles of this behavior (usually at bedtime) I thought of myself. Sometimes you just got to get it all out. You got to cry, act frustrated, decide you don’t like everyone all the time and then you wake up the next day and feel pretty good.
    Now I just listen instead of solving his problems and he always feels so much better. He even suggested I become a school counselor which was an adorable compliment.

  56. Brooke says...

    I love this! I’m a therapist and I talk a lot with parents about “emotion coaching” and it is so similar. How to see emotions as a chance for intimacy and safety rather than overwhelm and fixing. John and Julie Gottman are amazing therapists and researchers who do work on this. This 3 minute video of them is for teachers but I always think it applies to all of us as adults too ;).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3uPPEtyX_I

    • Cherie says...

      Yes! I learn a lot from John and Julie Gottman!

    • Brooke says...

      Cherie, oh yay, that’s so neat you know and love their work too. They are so gentle and wise and great at putting this into tangible steps.

      I just found their Emotion Coaching steps in my files and they are so helpful –and speak to the questions about limits on behavior a lot of people here are asking about. In their more in-depth resources, they talk about all the choices you can give children about to express difficult feelings without being harmful.

      1. Be aware of your child’s emotion
      2. Recognize your child’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy and teaching
      3. Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings
      4. Help your child learn to label their emotions with words
      5. Set limits when you are helping your child to solve problems and help them learn and brainstorm on how to deal with upsetting situations appropriately

  57. Christina says...

    I think this is true for people who are grieving, too… you don’t have to fix anything or provide solutions. Just listening and echoing how much everything sucks can be comforting to them.

    • jones says...

      Completely agree and I posted something similar above before I saw your comment. Before my sister died last year, I never realized how uncomfortable people are with negative emotions. People are super quick with platitudes and fixing things instead of just saying “It sucks that this happened and you have the right to be sad about it and sad for a long time about it.”

  58. Laura says...

    I work in a mental health setting for adolescents, and from speaking to multiple other professionals (doctors, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists), one thing that has stood out to me is the importance of letting children experience distress. I’ve realized that parents and caregivers are so quick to run to ‘fix’ when children are upset, but it’s actually very disruptive to helping kids problem solve, process their upset, and it prevents them from building resilience as a result. Obviously there are times when it’s important to intervene and I’d never advocate being neglectful when a child is upset, but this post just made me think of how important it is to help children reflect and learn from their experiences in a safe and supportive way.

    • Emily says...

      I could not agree with this more. I think many parents today think of happiness as the ultimate goal for their kids. I think letting children feel their sadness, disappointment, hurt, etc. is so crucial. We live in a world of so many distractions that it’s hard to just be with our feelings and this is precisely what most of us need.

    • Joanna Schoff says...

      100% i just posted a similar point. So so important as they grow up.

    • I say this every day at work. Well put!

  59. Molly says...

    Yes! I always try to think about this and was alerted to it by the most random source: an episode of Parks and Rec. While Ann is pregnant she gets exasperated with Chris trying to find solutions for all of her complaints instead of just saying “That sucks.” As a ‘fixer,’ that rang very true for me. Now I try to better gauge if someone needs actual solutions, or if they just need me to listen and say emphatically say “that sucks!”

  60. Beth says...

    I love this article, and I think it rings true for anyone. I think perhaps I am thinking most specifically of male partners who often seem to feel like you’re asking them to fix your problems when you just need to get it out…

    • Kristie says...

      Yes! So many times I need to remind my husband that I just want to express how I’m feeling, I don’t want to be steamrolled into a problem solving brainstorming session!

  61. Sasha L says...

    There’s a great Invisibilia pod cast episode that touches on this, helping build resilience and the consequences of doing too much for children. The Fifth Vital Sign (it’ll seem like it’s about something totally different, but hang in there).

    There’s an epidemic of parents that don’t feel strong enough themselves to handle their children’s emotions. The consequences are sad and enormous.

    When your child is falling apart, but you carry on, calmly, reassuringly, not running to fix, but letting your child know those emotions are ok and never too much for you, your child feels safe. They grow stronger, better able to cope on their own, and less anxious. They also learn they are unconditionally loved by you.

  62. Meg says...

    I find that a peaceful/healing environment sometimes helps combat internal chaos. When I can tell my kiddos have had a bad day, and when they aren’t looking, I’ll run around and do a quick cleaning blitz. I think yummy candles, peaceful music, made beds and organized rooms are soothing and restful for both big and little souls alike.

    • Rae says...

      Oh Meg, I so agree. And this works for me too, not just my kids!

  63. JO says...

    This is such great advice and definitely works for my five-year-old. I’ve also found that she is almost always calmed by the idea that I’ve gone through scenarios and emotions that mirror hers. She is constantly asking me, “Mommy, did YOU feel like that when YOU were a little girl?” It’s what we all want and probably something to do with why CoJ writing and comments section are so popular :) – to see ourselves reflected in someone else!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh yes!!! we do this, too. it’s so helpful and i can see my kids immediately calm down.

  64. Bevin says...

    When my (now teenage) kids were little, my pediatrician recommended the book you referenced in this article. It is a breath of fresh air and definitely worth reading for all parents.

    • KA says...

      Agreed! Wendy Mogel’s books are wonderful. There’s a companion to the one from the article called The Blessing of a B- about parenting teens. They are both fantastic and well worth the read.

  65. Kim says...

    I HIGHLY recommend all of Wendy Mogel’s books!

    • Sam says...

      I edited Wendy’s second book! She is a treasure.

  66. As a pediatric OT, I’m all over this content today! The best book on this topic, in my opinion, is The Whole Brain Child, by Dan Siegel. I love it so much, I did a quick review for the parents with whom we work. Thanks Cup of Jo!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JUx5L-4h-Q

    • M says...

      I use this book constantly for my work (and at home!) Completely second this recommendation!

    • Brooke says...

      Oh this is such a good book, Trish! Dan Siegel is great and co-author Tina Payne Bryson does great resources, podcasts, readings on parenting with presence and empathy for the adult and the child too.

    • sarah says...

      I’ve read all of Dan Siegel’s parenting books and I think they are fantastic. I especially loved “the yes brain child” and the concept of the mind platter. I also subtly use techniques from the “No Drama Discipline” on my husband and it’s done wonders for my marriage. I don’t think it matters how old you are, nobody like to be nagged at.

  67. Stacey says...

    This works for adults, too :)

    • Lucia says...

      Is this relatable to anyone else? Most of friends feel better after complaining/venting, whereas I do not. Am I weird?!

      I find that yes, this works if I’m sad but not if I’m angry. Bc if I’m angry, then I feel right/validated & I get even MORE mad.

      I’ve learned to keep complaining & venting to a minimum to manage my negative emotions. A bad moment/instance/few hours doesn’t have to ruin a whole day.

    • Anu says...

      I agree with you Lucia! Personally I have to be careful in my venting so that don’t get into a super-negative mood due to a minor incident or annoyance. I try to brush things off without acknowledging them because minor annoyances are to be expected and there’s no point dwelling on them. Easier said than done!

    • Annie K says...

      Lucia and Anu, I’ve had this same question! I think the trick is to validate the anger (“I’m angry and that’s okay”)and THEN move on (“but I’m not going to let it ruin my day”). Nick Wignall’s article on Judgment helped me understand this idea; I’d never come across someone explaining anger as a positive emotion (that can then kind of feed on itself in a negative way). He differentiates between the emotion and the actions we take following the emotion.
      https://nickwignall.com/judgmental/

  68. Stephanie says...

    This reminds me so much of Kim Payne’s Simplicity Parenting (which is an amazing read)!

    It makes a lot of sense to me–even as an adult, I don’t always want someone to “fix” my problems. My best friend and I will often start a conversation with, “Do you want solutions, or do you just want me to listen?” More often than not, someone to listen is all we need.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i loved Simplicity Parenting!

    • Megan M says...

      Ooohhhh this is so good. I’m always out to solve the problem and sometimes I just need to listen, dangit! What a great way to start a conversation and also a way to remind myself that people aren’t always looking for answers.

  69. Jamie says...

    I agree with this 100%. I have a moody 14 y/o (who has always been moody). All she needs is to be listened to and for her problems be taken seriously. I have gotten better at it over the years. I nod and say hmmm, or arg! or ugh, how annoying. Or, if I think she needs to see the lighter side of something, I’ll do my response but add: was it the tiniest bit funny or ironic or whatever? Mostly, it is the engagement with the topic that is validating, rather than an automatic “you should…” Once in a while, she is actually looking for help in solving something, but she’ll clearly ask.

  70. This is so good (and sometimes hard to do in practice!). I love Wendy Mogel–did you hear her interview with Dax Shepard on Armchair Expert? I’ve listened to it twice! Also, this reminds me of the strategies in “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen”–just pure gold parenting advice.

  71. Abby says...

    I love this, for kids but also for adult relationships too! Sometimes all you need is for your friend or partner to validate your feelings rather than try to cheer you up.

  72. agnes says...

    That post arrives just like a christmas present! I’ll try to do that, to “just” listen and be there. We’re moving out of a very nice place to live (a very beautiful island, west of France), to Paris, and it’s difficult for my son, who is 6. He’s giving us a very hard time, saying no to every thing, and asking for so many things, all the time. I’m exhausted. I just want my child to be happy but of course I can’t! we’re not always happy… Thank you for being such a warm place.

  73. C says...

    I love advice like this and always do my best to practice it but it also always feels like another thing to have to be better about, another way I’m failing whenever I (because of my own tough day or tiredness or because I’m short on time) respond too quickly or too sharply or offer a suggestion instead of just a listening ear. Maybe it’s just me but it feels like the more advice I get, the less capable I feel as a parent and the less likely I am to trust my own instincts because I’m too busy trying to sort which parenting advice I should be following in any specific situation.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i hear you, C, and i definitely don’t do this all the time. i think just the act of trying means you’re a great mom, and in the end, we’re all just muddling through it and loving our children.

    • Abesha1 says...

      I hear that. But i actually think this is easier… you don’t have to ever do anything to fix a problem this way, at least not right away. The only thing you ever have to do is reflect them, and that often (in my experience) leads them to tell you how they wish you could fix it. So if the reflection becomes habit, you’re set for all situations.

    • ElizabethPFB says...

      Me too! I have a lot of anxiety anyway, and sometimes I order all the recommended books mentioned in a single article and then not read any of them because I feel so overwhelmed!

    • Lily says...

      Oh, C. I hear you loud and clear. For me, parenting felt (/feels) very much like building the plane as I (amateurishly) fly it. I’ve read so many parenting books in the seven years that I’ve been raising my daughter, but still find myself defaulting to learned behavior during moments of stress, fatigue, what have you. You are not alone in feeling this way!

      If it’s any solace, children don’t need perfect parents—they simply need “good enough” ones (medium.com/@alexandrasacks/the-good-enough-mother-ab19fd7dad06)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “children don’t need perfect parents—they simply need ‘good enough’ ones” = love this.

  74. Sarah says...

    So well said! I think this technique works with adults as well.

  75. Christy says...

    My daughter’s teachers have always described her as “easy” and “no trouble at all,” and for a long time I wondered what I was doing wrong at home to make her fuss at me so much. Eventually I realized she was fussing at home *because* she was so well behaved at school! I figure she knows her dad and I will love her no matter how fussy she is, so she feels safe letting it all hang out with us. I’m going to try reflective listening. I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of not trying to fix things when she’s upset.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      toby used to cry almost every day when i got home from work, and need a cuddle, and at first i was worried, but then i realized he was trying so hard all day long, and when he saw me, he could just relax and let it all out. after he cried, he would be in the best mood and we’d have a great night. kids are so fascinating!

  76. celeste says...

    This is very timely. We had 5 inches of snow this morning and my kiddo was in a bad mood about riding a cold bus and I just wanted to say, “I’ll drive you in, and stop for donuts on the way.” I can’t feed him every time but I did walk him to the bus stop! I’m super big on independence because my mom died when I was very young.

  77. Erin says...

    I’m really interested in this. I have a child who gets mired in a bad day and if I say something that sounds like that sounds really hard or anything else empathetic it starts an even more negative spiral and she’ll keep looking for negative things, especially in the form of comparing against her sister or past things that haven’t gone her way. We are really working on thinking about gratitude and positiveness and I’m having a hard time balancing being empathetic and reflecting back with trying to look at things more positively. Anyone else struggle with this?

    • Hilary says...

      Hi Erin! I teach communication and active listening skills to adults, but I also have an almost 3-year old, so I can verify that these skills work no matter what age.

      The key is in letting the venting happen for as long as it takes (which is perhaps longer than you’d like!) and only moving onto other things when she’s ready. If you move right into solutions/being positive mode, it comes across as what Brene Brown calls “silver-lining it” as opposed to empathy, aka, feeling with people. The steps I teach for listening through conflict, if it’s helpful, are:

      1. Keep listening! Venting requires room and air time, so say nothing and let it all tumble out.
      2. Pause often. Simply talking more slowly and using a measured tone can take some of the emotion down a notch.
      3. Empathetic phrases. This can be as simple as “I hear you” and “I’m sorry that happened” or “I’m sorry you’re feeling x and y today.” You might have to do this for longer than you’d like.
      4. Transition phrases. “It’s useful hearing you explain that, because I see it differently.” This values her experiences while also allows you to say what you want to say.
      5. Work to find shared goals. You may want her to look at the situation as half-full, but that might make her feel like you don’t quite get it. We aim for harmony in conflict when sometimes I think we should aim for action. What’s next? What’s something she could work toward to make herself feel better? Could she go hug it out with a stuffed toy? Would drawing her feelings make her feel better? Would role playing a scenario with you help her practice something she’s nervous about? Even asking her “what would make you feel better?” can be powerful.

      I hope this is helpful! You sound like a great, caring mom.

    • Clare says...

      We struggle with that at our house too. My son often becomes increasingly theatrical the more I “reflect” to him. Recently I’ve tried acknowledging his feelings once, then just being quiet (sometimes “umhum-ing when needed). I think of it as letting him get it all out without feeding the beast or egging it on.

    • cg says...

      I’m curious to know what age range your daughter is. I teach high school, and am also an advisor (all grades). When I have a student/advisee who seems to mire themselves in the negative, especially if it starts to turn into a “woe is me, I’m always the victim” sort of deal when it’s not really all that horrible, I’ll listen to what they have to say. They’ll empty out and all the while I’m nodding my head to let them know I am actively listening. After repeating what they’ve told me, partly so they can hear their own words, partly to make sure I’m clear, I’ll ask them “What do you think you can do about it?”

      I do a version of this with my own teenage daughter, who is autistic and pretty much mainstreamed into school. She has some rough times and sometimes she loses sight on the original thing that made her upset. So I try to circle back to the original source and ask her what she thinks her options are to make things feel more (fill in the blank: correct, right, settled, etc).

    • E says...

      I think I know what you’re talking about–my partner has a friend who tends to do this, and my dude was like ‘what do I say? if I sympathize with him, he just gets stuck thinking about negative stuff, and if I try to point out anything positive, he gets mad!’ I suggested trying to do something active when they spend time together–like going on a walk instead of sitting at a bar, and that does seem to help. I try to figure out whether someone’s in distress because they are having trouble accessing and assessing their feelings (in which case–listen, talk), or because they are so surrounded by their emotions that they can’t figure out an escape (move, do something). I’ve dated several people with depression and I find that typically going for a hike, whether or not we talk at all, is a hundred times better than sitting around talking.

    • Kelly says...

      oh boy does this sound familiar!

      i’ve tried the empathetic response…we never really get to the point where it seems to create a sense of relief…it just seems to create a spiral of of gloom and sometimes increasingly bad behavior (‘oh it sounds like you were upset by that’ gets a screaming reply ‘YES I WAS UPSET YOU DON”T EVEN UNDERSTAND’) until I’ve lost the thread of the discussion and we NEED to move on to make other things in life happen like eating dinner and homework etc. My daughter is 9 and has ADHD which can cause difficulty in processing emotions and keeping things in perspective so maybe that is my issue.

      one trick i’ve used recently is to offer a foot rub. my daughter came home in a mood recently and didn’t want to talk, but the foot rub allowed us to connect without talking and within 5 minutes got her smiling and moving on. only tried it once, perhaps the novelty will wear off, but i’ll take any wins I can get!

    • Erin says...

      I can relate! One of my kids (age 10) is this way. Our family dinners can easily end up being overwhelmed by her relaying every bad thing that has ever happened in one of her classrooms EVER and no one can get a word in on that topic or any other. I love her dearly and want her to be able to come to me with issues, but do we really need to get onto a spiral of reliving the time two years ago when a students called another student a bad name??? For the fifth time???

      Honestly, I don’t have a good solution. But when the stories she’s pouring out stop involving her or the last 30 days, we’ll often say something along the lines of “I’m sorry for all that. School can be hard, and that was clearly not appropriate behavior when Alex played on the playground after the bell rang. Let’s pause that story so that we can hear about everyone’s day and then talk more about that after dinner, if you need.”

      I find the word “pause” in particular is helpful.

      Or, when it’s something that does seem to be important to discuss but is spiraling, sometimes we have success with suggesting that we brainstorm positive things that could be done in a similar, future situation. We’re still stuck talking about whatever is on her mind that moment, but it does seem to at least pull us out of the negativity nose dive.

  78. joana says...

    i think this is valid for children and also adults, actually. sometimes you just want to be heard, you want someone to validate your feelings and share your pain/sadness/whatever. sometimes you don’t even need words, just a warm hug :)

    • agnes says...

      You’re so right! It is so unbearable to see our children suffer that we kind of lose our common sense.

    • Anna says...

      You beat me to it. As an adult who tries to solve everything AND often feels unheard – this. All of it. Maybe if a generation of children grow up learning this we’ll all be better off once they grow up! I wish I had been on either side of this listening skill growing up :)

    • Lorraine says...

      Exactly this. It’s a human need, just to be heard and acknowledged.

  79. t says...

    True for adults too.