How we respond to kids BIG feelings, can make a big difference to children’s mental health...
We often hear children being told ‘Stop crying, you’re fine’, ‘don’t worry’, ‘calm down’,
‘you’re making a drama over nothing’… These well-meaning attempts to make a child feel
better (and the parent!) end up making children feel worse. They end up feeling mis-understood, ashamed for being upset and confused about why they can’t just stop crying.
It’s not just children who are told not to worry or to calm down, grown ups hear it too. And
when we are told ‘just calm down’ it’s infuriating! Or told not to worry, we feel stupid for
worrying! What should parents do? By labelling the feelings, and using empathy, a child crying can be an opportunity for learning rather than something that needs shut down quickly.
‘It sounds like you feel nervous about going to swimming lessons, you don’t know anyone. I feel nervous when I do something for the first time too’, instead of ‘Hey, don’t worry, you’ll be fine! You’ll make friends. There’s nothing to worry about.'
'You’re sad you weren’t invited on the sleepover. It can be hard feeling left out’ instead of
‘No point being upset over it, now how about we head out for dinner tonight, to cheer you up'.
When we label feelings, children feel heard and that their feelings are valid. When we dismiss their feelings, try and move on sooner than they are ready, we miss an opportunity for them to learn about feelings, that they are valid, and that they can come and go.
Ultimately, by labelling feelings over time, you can improve a child’s emotional intelligence
and thus enable developing a healthy mental health.
This approach is grounded in the work of Dr Haim Ginott (Ginott 1965 & 1967) Clinical
Psychologist. He described the importance of acknowledgment of feelings rather than
denial to help children heal and become better problem solvers. His work has been taken
forward and published in several influential books; Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child
(Gottman 1996), Liberated Parents, Liberated Child; Your guide to a happier family (Faber &
Mazlish 1985) and How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk (Faber and
Mazlish, 3rd Ed, 2012). Gottman who wrote in his book Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child “…I can provide the first quantifiable evidence to suggest that Ginott’s ideas were essentially correct. Empathy not only matters; it is the foundation of effective parenting” (p. 35).
To learn more skills in labelling feelings, as well as other useful tools for enabling children to be independent, have healthy self-esteem and be motivated, you can sign up for a 6 session
course run by Dr Kathryn Smith at The Wellbeing Rooms. Further details can be found at:
For more resources and reading around Emotional Intelligence:
(Thank you to Dr Kathryn Smith Clinical Psychologist @thewellbeingrooms for this very important and informative guest blog)