The Hidden Treasure

Where Ancient Wisdom Meets Contemporary Psychology

The Value of Being Emotionally Responsive

Written By: Vic Rebman Ph.D - Jul• 22•13

Lauren Rebman, LMFTA

In my work with children, one of the main requests of the parents in families I meet with is to help them decrease the frequency of their child’s outbursts.  Parents work tirelessly to discipline their children in the right way and follow all the rules, yet their child may continue to respond with an outburst.  Children who have outbursts may be lacking certain life-skills, be struggling with the frustrations of a learning disability, living in a challenging home/school/social environment, etc.  Thus, they may require further intervention.  However, all children can benefit from adults who communicate comfort and understanding, right?

So, I’d like to pose a question to my readers: What if instead of trying to immediately stop an outburst, we “lean” into it?  What if we were to welcome the child’s outburst with validation of their frustration and comfort them in the unpleasant moment?  What may happen?

Children have an innate desire to “be good.”  They want to make their parents happy!  Kids experience frustrations just as adults do and feel disappointed in themselves when they behave in an inappropriate way.  If we can teach our children to welcome uncomfortable emotions and then sit with them calmly while they work through that emotion, aren’t we teaching them something beautiful?  Expressing:

Dear Child, as a human being you will experience negative emotion.  Welcome it, lean into it, learn to calm down and self-soothe, then you can manage it appropriately.

On the flip side, if we immediately attempt to punish them for a bad behavior (experienced by the child  as reprimanding them for their negative emotion), what might we be unintentionally teaching them?  In this, the child may be hearing:

Dear Child, as a human being you will experience negative emotion.  You should immediately attempt to extinguish the feeling!  It is inappropriate to be angry, scared, or uncertain.  I am so disappointed in you.

Teaching the difference between right and wrong is important and appropriate consequences can be valuable, however, we need to wait for the “teachable moment” to dole out consequences and lessons.  If your child is in the moment, stay in that moment with them!  This will model healthy self-soothing and emotional management strategies, the power of being in a calm state, and build self-esteem, self-confidence, a secure parent-child relationship, and more!

Let’s teach our children, students, clients, friends, and family:

It’s ok to feel unpleasant emotions.  I want to understand what you’re feeling so I can help you manage the emotion appropriately.  I care for you, so let’s take the time to lean into the problem.  We can worry about problem-solving later.




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