How to Emotionally Connect with Your Child When They Are Upset

Category: Play Therapy

One of my favorite resources for parents that need support with helping their children regulate their emotions is the book “The Whole-Bain-Child “by Dr.Siegel M.D and Tina Payne Bryson, PH.D. It is an easy read that is both straightforward and practical.

Here is a short video where Dr. Siegel brilliantly explains the physiology of the brain using the hand model:

Their book outlines 12 steps to support the child’s whole-brain emotional development. There are all great, and I highly recommend the book. However, the one that I talk about the most is the first one.

When your child is upset, you need first to connect and then redirect. You connect first right brain to right brain, meaning you use your emotions. And only after the child is calm and can access their left brain do you connect by using logic and reason.

Here are some examples of how you connect emotionally with your child:

  1. Validate your child’s feelings
  2.  Listen with empathy
  3. See and acknowledge their struggle
  4. Use loving touch and supporting body language.

This is what it might look like:

  1.  Kneel to your child’s level,
  2.  Give them your undivided attention,
  3. Have a soft look and a soothing voice.

This is what it might sound like:

  1. “I see this is hard for you,”
  2. “I care how you feel, “
  3. “It’s ok to feel angry, “
  4. “I love you,”
  5. “I will stay with you until you feel better.”

When you validate your child’s feelings and show empathy, you communicate that they have your attention, create emotional safety, and give them permission to express their feelings. By showing them unconditional love, you deepen the connection, trust and accept them just as they are.

After you have connected with your child and they have calmed down, they are ready to rationalize and use their words and analytical and logical minds. Then, you can take the opportunity to redirect. Redirecting means involving the child in creating appropriate solutions and problem-solving or consequences.

In summary, you cannot reason with a child in the throes of an emotional episode; you must use your deep love and patience to help your child move through the dysregulation. As a bonus, you will strengthen your bond and allow your child to learn how to self-regulate better.

Marina Blalock AMFT