How Can I Deal With My Child’s Emotions?

By: Debra Eckerman Pitton, Ph.D. and Kelly Quinn

[Part of the "Q & A for Parents of Middle School Students" series]

The middle school years are often a roller coaster of emotions for many young people. One minute they seem perfectly agreeable, then they spout off in anger and then later , they may seem withdrawn. While you cannot control how your child is feeling, it is important to respect how he feels and to help him deal with these emotions. The book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (Weir, 2002) mentions many great ideas about adult responses that can help children with their emotions:

  1. Don't deny the child's feelings (i.e. “you don't feel tired-you just took a nap”; “you're not hungry- you just ate!”) Instead, listen to them explain their feelings and then label it with an emotion, like “you're angry.” They will correct you if you're not on the right track, and they feel like you are really listening and that their feelings are legitimate.

  2. State what you just heard the child say to you (rephrased) to show that you heard and understand what they are trying to convey.

  3. Show active listening by looking at them (put down the newspaper!) and responding to what they say.

  4. Don't just try to change the behavior, try to get to the root of the problem and deal with their feelings.

  5. Open yourself up to talking to your child. Let him know you are there for him. Your child will come to you when dealing with problems and emotions if he feels secure and comfortable that you will be open and accepting.

While you cannot control your child's emotions, you can control your own. Modeling how you deal with emotions like anger or frustration will help. Most importantly - acknowledge that your child's more complex life and developing personality does lead to emotional ups and downs. Don't ignore serious emotional problems, but after you have talked with them and offered support, allow your child some space to work through their emotions. Sometimes stepping back and allowing the child to think about the issues and emotions enables them to find their own answers.


(Cline & Fay, 1992; Kelly, 1996; Panzarine, 2000; Weir, 2002).

Cline, F. & Fay, J. (1992). Parenting teens with love & logic. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinon Press.

Kelly, Kate. 1996). The complete idiot's guide to parenting a teenager. New York: Alpha Books.

Panzarine, S. (2000). A parent's guide to teen years: Raising your 11- to 14- year old in the age of chat rooms and navel rings. New York: Checkmark Books.

Weir, K. (2002). A parent's guide to school projects, papers, and presentations. Los Angeles, CA: Mars Publishing.

Debra Eckerman Pitton, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Middle Level Education at Gustaus Adolphus College in St. Peter , MN and consults with school districts across the country on issues of mentoring and middle school education.

Kelly Quinn is a senior education major at Gustaus Adolphus College and will be graduating in May, 2005 with an elementary and middle school teaching license.

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