Building an Emotionally Safe Household

My highly esteemed partner, Natalie (that’s her, being the human pillow), wrote the article below for Mothering Magazine (before they went paperless…) and it so perfectly encapsulates the sum total of our approach to being with our kids through all of their emotions — from shivering anxiety to thundering rage to volcanic joy — as well as the kind of atmosphere we strive to create for their best possible emotional development, that I had to share it with you. My apologies to the majority of you, who will no doubt have already read it on Natalie’s blog — but you know best why I had to pass it on to the rest who haven’t seen it yet! Seriously, this is one of those articles that you print off and put on the fridge (maybe even mail it to all the grandparents), share on Facebook or Google+ or whatever, email to all of your parent-friends, bring everywhere — this is world changing parenting information… Please use it with abandon.

Building an Emotionally Safe Household

Feelings are everything. They connect us to our true selves as well as to other human beings. When we recognize our feelings and share them with others, we develop friendships, meaningful bonds, romance, community—all the things that make life worthwhile. As parents, we want to set our children up to revel in these delights. Deep down, we know that math scores aren’t what will carry our daughter through the trial of a breakup, that physical agility or prowess on the violin won’t help our son as he negotiates a conflict at work. For such challenges they will need not test scores and physical strength, but emotional integrity and skills—and we are determined that they have them.

But how?

One place to start is to acknowledge that all feelings are acceptable. This alone may not appear to be much of an obstacle—in theory, it isn’t difficult to see anger as being just as important as happiness—but in practice it’s more difficult. There are hundreds of ways in which parents unconsciously encourage some feelings in their children while discouraging others, only to find that when they really want or need their kids to open up, they’re reluctant to.

Most of us aren’t even aware of the ways in which we discourage our children from truthfully expressing themselves. Our comments, facial expressions, jokes, and reactions—all contribute to our children’s emotional environment. Although our comments and reactions may be subtle, our children take notice of them, and if they don’t feel safe in their surroundings, they may never relate their true feelings.

Here are seven ways to create an environment in which your child will feel comfortable expressing his or her feelings:

1. Let the child lead

Each person is the best judge of her own feelings, including children. It isn’t helpful to tell a child what she is experiencing.

scenario: Girl falls, scrapes knee.

mom: You’re OK! It’s just a little scrape! See? No blood—you’re OK.

Although Mom is trying to be comforting, she’s acting as if it’s she who is in charge of how the girl feels. This is untrue, can be insulting, and gently nudges the child away—not only from expressing her true feelings, but from knowing what those feelings might be.

“You’re OK!” is a common example. If you find yourself saying this or the equivalent, it’s probably because your child is not OK with the situation. If a child is upset, it’s a disservice to her to tell her that she is not upset—that she’s “OK.”

instead: Oh! You fell! Are you OK?

2. Stop prompting

Just as leading a child toward what the child is feeling can be avoided, so can prompting your child about what you think he should feel. When a child is given a present or is complimented by someone, it’s common for a parent to place himself in the background of the interaction and indicate that the child should smile (!) and be pleased. The parent uses face, hands, and body language to demonstrate the feeling “appropriate” to the occasion.

Instead, try a more neutral facial expression and wait to see how your child actually feels about this situation. The best way to illustrate that all feelings are acceptable is to allow their expression, no matter what is dictated by social norms.

That said, even if we accept a child’s emotional response to a gift, we might still want him to show appreciation. This is perfectly natural, but if a discussion about social customs is necessary, it should be kept separate from the expression of feelings. Appreciation for a gift, or concern for the gift-giver’s feelings when a gift isn’t enjoyed, will come naturally to a child who has been allowed to experience the full expression of his own feelings. This kind of concern, commonly referred to as empathy, is a natural response for children who themselves have been treated empathetically. An empathic response to an unwanted gift is one that shows appreciation, not one that quashes one’s true feelings.

If you’d like to demonstrate your own appreciation for the gift your child has received, don’t try to control his expression of his feelings in order to express your own appreciation. You can make your feelings of appreciation known to the gift-giver in your own way.

3. Quit shushing

It’s perfectly normal for humans to be upset, cry, even sob and wail. Refrain from saying “Sssshhhhsssshhhh” to help a child feel better. Outside of attempting to provide for an infant’s physical needs, make no effort, verbal or otherwise, to persuade her to stop crying, as this may tell her that the strong feelings that have caused her to weep are unacceptable.

Instead, hold her and give her empathy: “You seem so sad about that.” If the child is too loud for the surroundings, remove her from the environment without giving the impression that this is a punishment. In addition, remain with the child so that she doesn’t feel abandoned in her grief. Give her all the time she needs to feel her sadness and let it out completely.

4. No more name-calling

Do not label your child for expressing his emotions, no matter how annoying (to you) those expressions may be, or even if you consider your names for him “harmless” or cute.

name-calling: Henry, stop being such a whiner! I told you dinner wasn’t ready yet. If you’d leave me alone instead of whining at me, I’d have it done already!

instead: Henry, I know you’re hungry. You’re frustrated that dinner is taking so long. I’m trying my hardest to hurry, but I’m pretty distracted by talking to you about when dinner will be ready. I think if you found something to do, time would pass more quickly, and I’d be able to concentrate better and get it done faster.

Another example:

name-calling: You silly goose! Pants are for your legs, not your head! You’re such a silly goose.

instead: Are you making a joke? Pants usually go on your legs, not your head, right?! That’s so funny!

5. Resist lauding

Parents want their children to feel loved and encouraged, and praise is one of the ways we hope to achieve this. But praising expressions of emotion, however subtly, can have the opposite effect. If you value one sort of emotion over another, your child will quickly understand that some feelings are worthy of praise, while others should be avoided. When difficult feelings arise, children who have been earlier praised for expressing more acceptable emotional states may add concern for a parent’s potential displeasure to an already uncomfortable emotional load and not express them at all. Knowing that her parents will accept her no matter what she’s feeling is perhaps the greatest comfort a child can have.

Be careful with your wording when talking about a child’s emotional reaction:

lauding: You were so brave at the dentist today! You didn’t even cry one bit! I am so proud of you!

instead: What did you think of the dentist today? How was it for you?

Another example:

lauding: Good job, honey! All those strangers were talking to you, and you weren’t shy at all. You answered all of their questions. Good for you!

 instead: Wow. A lot of strangers were talking to you today. I noticed you seemed to feel comfortable answering all of their questions. Did you enjoy that?

6. Beware of judging

Watch for subtle cues you may give a child that reveal your judgment of his emotional expressions. Even if not expressed directly, criticism can be felt by those at whom it’s directed. A child can listen and watch closely, especially when he knows or suspects that he is the subject of an adult conversation. This is why it is important to maintain neutrality in your words and tone, even when discussing your child’s feelings with another parent or friend.

judging: Sorry we’re late. My son had a total meltdown over a missing sippy cup. [rolls eyes, looks exasperated] But we finally made it! 

instead: Sorry we’re late. We couldn’t find a sippy cup that’s really important to my son. He was pretty upset about it, and it took us a while to sort that out. But I’m glad we made it!

Remain loyal to your child and his emotional health; don’t sacrifice him for the sake of a laugh, or as a way to apologize to someone else. Show him that his feelings are valued by presenting those feelings in an honorable manner. If you need empathy for yourself for a particularly long and difficult day or a trying moment, find or create a private opportunity in which you can describe the details, laugh, or exaggerate.

7. Express yourself

A child can learn a lot by watching the people around her, so teach her by expressing your own feelings honestly. Don’t hide or dismiss your own emotional state.

suppressing: Oh, honey, Mama’s fine. I know I was crying, but it’s nothing. Did you finish the TV show? Are you hungry?

instead: Yes, I’m crying. I feel sad. It’s not for you to worry about, honey. I’m sad, but I’m still your Mama, and I can take care of you even if I’m sad.

There’s no need to tell your child all the details of your personal life or financial situation, but by expressing your own true emotions you can model what you’d like to see from her.

Lasting results

When raised in an emotional environment that is consistently and conscientiously made emotionally safe, children will think nothing of not only identifying what they truly feel, but freely expressing those emotions. A household in which emotional freedom is the norm may be a wilder one —emotions are never tidy, and seldom quiet—but the benefits of such freedom are great. In the short term, children who recognize their own feelings develop empathy for others, and can make generosity, appreciation, and resolution of conflicts natural parts of their day. In the long term, emotionally healthy children have a better chance of growing into successful, fulfilled, dynamic adults who are able to negotiate all the social challenges of life. What more could a parent want for them?


About Nathan M McTague, CPCC, CPDPE, CMNEC

I'm a cofounder of the Center for Emotional Education, and I've spent the last 16 years working with the world's most powerful women, femme, and nonbinary leaders who have been incredibly successful, but who still struggle with debilitating emotional overwhelm that gets in the way of their relationships, their health, and their work. I help them learn how to operate their emotional system, heal from longstanding emotional wounds, and rewire their brains to be better at feelings, so they can finally have the relationships, the health, and the next level business success that they deserve. I lead courses and trainings, and offer 1:1 healing and growth support for my clients all over the world — so that they can move from emotional overwhelm to Emotional Sovereignty, and fully own their lives.
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32 Responses to Building an Emotionally Safe Household

  1. I LOVE THIS. You have articulated what my instincts have told me all along. Beautifully articulated. I’ve shared it on Facebook. You’re right… the emotionally free household is a bit wild. Though I must admit needing to tone down my shushing. It happens almost daily when I’m scrambling to put food on the table with a toddler ready to eat five minutes prior. 🙂

  2. Amy says:

    Very important issues! Thank you for sharing this. I have always felt uncomfortable with “You’re okay!” but I was never sure why.

    It may seem like something small, but the only thing I didn’t care for we’re the stereotypical descriptions of daughters and sons at the beginning. Why couldn’t the boy be going through a breakup and the girl at work?

    • Hey Amy, thanks for writing in.

      Love the close read on the potential gender stereotypes. Not sure why Natalie chose the way she did — of course, I’m certain it had nothing actually to do with gender issues for her (that is, she doesn’t actually think only girls process going through break-ups or that boys are the only ones at work). But I still very much appreciate that perspective!

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Be well.

  3. mama says:

    how many kids do you have, and what ages are they?

  4. Emily Brady says:

    This came to me with impeccable timing as my 10 year old girl and 9 year old boy both are quickly approaching some tough years and have already been through A LOT for such young children…the highlights: abandoned by a father with drug and alcohol problems at 3 & 4 years of age & even more hurtful, we’ve not seen or heard from him once since then day he left. it has affected them both deeply but in extremely different ways. I have to approach them in such drastically different ways and they both communicate in such extremely different ways that finding a road map for both has been tough for me!!! I’ve always tried to encourage them to be open with me about thoughts, feelings, questions…and I have tried to be gentle but honest without ever talking down about their father or revealing too much for such innocent hearts.
    I also grew up without a father in a single mom household with two older brothers…although I don’t remember my father leaving that day as my brothers do, I am acutely aware of the affects it had on me- from internalizing emotions, and poor relationships throughout life with boys/men…I especially worry about my independant, mature, smart, sweet daughter…she is an internalized approaching adolescence!!! And she’s MY child!!! This is going to be tricky, to say the least. The ways we can push our kids without even knowing it that are listed in the article were so obvious once pointed out and explained! It was an “A-ha!” Read for me!!! But I didn’t even realize… now the tough mom part: to correct these things and hopefully help my children blossom and share with me in a healthy and healing way.
    Any advice from anyone on ways to keep these important tips and subliminal pushes we can give in mind during difficult, emotional, OR even a happy or whimsical moment?!?! I want to etch these in my brain!!!! I need a cheat sheet to keep in my pocket!!!
    Thank you so much for such a well written, smart, and informative article. I plan to share with all parents I know!!!

  5. Raisingchildrenwithautism says:

    Interesting food for thought. I personally think there’s a balance. I’ve seen parents so eager to allow their children to express every emotion without editing that they are trying to sooth an out of control nine year old that seems to be developing a narcissistic view of reality. Yet I more often see parents shaming children into compliance without thinking. The sippy cup example seems to validate the child’s feelings over the parents. As a parent of a son with autism I can tell you that venting to other parents about a huge meltdown is an important release. Obviously if the child is old enough it would be best done out of earshot, but usually toddlers are on the go the second they hit a new environment and not hypersensitive to adult conversation.

    • I’d definitely agree that everything is about balance!

      In terms of the sippy cup example — I happen to think that the reason it feels like it “seems to validate the child’s feelings over the parents” is because we’re so used to the opposite. We’re used to the parents railing on about how much trouble the kids are being. I reread the example to make sure, and I think what is actually happening in that one is that the parent isn’t overriding the child’s feelings with her own (the more common form of narcism in parent-child relations). We’re big on the idea that even though they are little, and not yet fully developed, and generally “in tow” behind parents, does not mean that children’s rights and feelings and processes and preferences are any less valid than their grown-up caretakers. The point being that we ought to make room just as we would for another adult, for our kids to have, express, and enjoy their own values and feelings without being judged, teased, or chastised about it.

      About parental venting — you are right, right, right! Parents need and deserve time and space to vent like a geyser on occasion. But I would never underestimate what a toddler is capable of picking up and/or internalizing without even realizing it — and so would (and do) do anything I can not to expose them to our venting about them. It’s just too risky.

      Thanks for writing in!

      Be well.

  6. Lina Montes says:

    i loved it ..i have 11 year old twins and a 10 month old… i find my self doing a lot of what we shouldn’t be doing…going to print and put it on my wall as a reminder….

    • Hi Lina,

      Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all do some version(s) of this stuff, especially when we’re starting out with almost nothing but parenting mythology in our heads! I even still tend toward some of these things when I am not at my parenting best. Reminding ourselves (with printouts, etc.) is a great way to keep it present in our minds until it becomes more habitual than the stuff with which we’ve been inundated before now. Keep keepin’ on, Mama — you’ll get it!

      Glad you found something useful in the post. Feel free to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already — then you can get free reminders of this sort in your inbox every week!

      Thanks for commenting — I love to hear from the readers!

      Be well.

  7. Deana says:

    I think this article is sad, I raised two boys being myself, which was joking around, shushing to calm them and other stuff and they are great awesome young men and we have respect for eachother and they show thier feelings with no problem. When people with mental issues read this you are messing them up more, things like this should not be allowd up for the public

    • Hi Deana,

      I hear you about your own experience, and I certainly believe that we have to be true to ourselves in parenting. I don’t think Natalie is saying that you can’t make room for emotional safety in your household if you ever shush your kids. I think all of her suggestions are to be taken as ways to encourage our kids to feel emotionally safe(r) with us. Many parents too often try to stop kids from having the emotions they’re having — with shushing and other methods — which is absolutely not good for kids’ emotional development, emotional self-regulation, or the parent-child relationship. And there is solid neuroscience to back up those assertions. Nevertheless — as a parent you always have to do what you think is good and right for your own family. Period. So if this post doesn’t resonate with you — please ignore it completely!

      The thing I don’t get, and I hope that you can hep me understand, is the last sentence of your comments. How does the article “mess [people with mental issues] up more”?

  8. beth creedon says:

    I love this piece of writing, Thank you so much for articulating how I feel about parenting too. As a coach too- I spend so much time working with people to reconnect with their emotions. My daughter is almost 8 months and I feel honoured to have the opportunity to witness and parent her emotions.

    • Hiya Beth —

      So many of us adults do struggle with connecting to and processing through our emotions! I tend to think that this is largely because of the parenting we got — however well meaning it likely was. We need those early interactions with our parents to help us be able to be in touch with, self-regulate, and learn from our emotions. If we don’t get it early, we struggle with it for life.

      Thanks for writing in, Beth. Nice to virtually meet you!

      Be well.

  9. Stephen Becket says:

    Your article is a load of modernistic hogwash! Yes, I agree that emotional health is important and children should be allowed to express their feelings BUT children, like ALL of us, are members of a wider society and whether we like it or not when they get out into the big wide world no one will give a damn about their feelings. Parents, appreciate that it is a hard unforgiving world out there where you have to have self discipline and coping skills, where disappointment is a fact of life and if you don’t swim you sink! Too often the people who fail (and when I say fail I mean don’t meet their own expectations) have an unrealistic view of life and can’t cope and not preparing your child for life is the biggest disservice you can do for them.
    We all love our children, I certainly love mine and my parents loved theirs, but pandering to them is not the way to go. Families are small societies and unless the children know their place and contribute,and receive their just benefits, within that society,as a part of a balanced system, then they are going to grow up disadvantaged. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world – taking the easy way out by pandering to a child’s every whim is not the way to go.
    Your article only shows a minute aspect of child rearing and creates the wrong impression.

    • Hi Stephen,

      I’m going to take you to task a bit about your comments — but I imagine you were hoping for something like that, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered commenting, right?

      First things first, you’re assuming a lot that isn’t in the article in question. No one here is talking about the kind of pandering that you seem to be. This article is about, and really only about making space for our kids to have their feelings and still get love from us in the process. You may not agree with that in and of itself, but it surely doesn’t have much if anything to do with the kind of fear you seem to have about it. Specifically, your concern for the well-being of the adult raised in an emotionally safe household is unfounded by scientific research, to say the least; and the kind of fall-out that you describe — wherein the child would not “know [his] place and contribute and receive [his] just benefits” is not at all synonymous with, nor part of, nor even the general result of what the article suggests. Making space for children to have their feelings and get love from us during them, and helping our children to process their emotional states is neither deleterious to their development nor cause for concern about how they will turn out as adults.

      In terms of the neuro-psychology of the acts of making space for and helping our kids process their emotions — there is clear evidence that our children come to life unable to regulate their own neuro-chemical emotional system(s), and that their brains rely on us (the care-givers) to help them form biochemical habits of emotion regulation. This is done in part by being calm, reasonable, emotion-processing adults in front of and near our young. Their brains take cues from us about how safe the world is, how safe they are with us, and how the emotional process occurs (among tons of other things too!). Another way their brains learn to regulate their emotions is by leaning on us when they are upset (and unable to access the rational parts of their brains as well or at all), getting support during the emotional process, and being calmed by our care and nurturance. If and when parents don’t do that, if and when parents ignore their children’s feelings, or don’t make space for them, or even punish the children for having such “tantrums” — then the children do not get the benefits of being assisted with their emotional processes, and their brains never learn to deal with emotions in a normal way. The adults you know who have “bad tempers”, or who have trouble calming down after upset, or who can’t mitigate their own stress, or who seem to get emotionally distraught so easily, or who become addicted to various substances rather than deal with the feelings in their lives — these are the people who didn’t get enough help in processing their emotions when they were young. It isn’t the people who got “pandered to” — it’s the ones who weren’t allowed to feel what they were feeling, get help processing, or be nurtured and loved through it.

      My guess is that you are collapsing some variables here, assuming that making space for the feelings means that we don’t hold our children responsible for their actions. This is absolutely not the case. Our children are some of the best behaved children you will ever meet — though they are of course still human — in part, because making space for their emotions means that those emotions aren’t lingering in the space between us, affecting their behavior without us even realizing it; but also, and perhaps more importantly, because our relationship is closer and more cooperative by nature (the emotional safety just being one aspect of that). Our kids do what is good and right in terms of dealing with others, most of the time, because they know about feelings, the care about how people feel, and they’ve been taught to honour the feelings they witness others having — that emotional intelligence and empathy will take them much further in life than any set of rules we could make them follow, or any amount of accountability we might hold them up to, or any fear of consequences that we could ever instill in them.

      The bottom line for me, and this may be where we disagree most, is that humans are essentially and by nature decent, kind beings, who are built to work together, and be self-reliant at the same time. If we prepare them properly — by seeing them as basically good and just needing encouragement in that, and by nurturing them the way their developing brains require — then they will become all that they were born to be. If on the other hand, we ignore their needs, or treat them as though they are/will be bad if we don’t train or beat it out of them, or we skip giving them our love and support (in addition to information about how to live life) — then they cannot develop properly, and the result is much of what we see in the news today. Humanity is suffering not because we’ve been too pandering to our young, but precisely because we have not been nurturing enough — focussing more on manipulating behavior(s) than growing people.

      I’ll absolutely agree that this “article only shows a minute aspect of child-rearing”. If this is all you ever read or learned about parenting, it would still be better than most of the tripe we’ve inherited from the Behaviorists, but it certainly wouldn’t be a definitive account of all that is necessary. That’s why I have this whole blog of over 200 posts and growing here! There is a lot to this whole parenting process, for sure — though I would absolutely disagree that parenting “is the hardest job in the world”. It is certainly the most important occupation we could have (and not given nearly enough value!), but I think it only appears as difficult as it does for most of us because of the combination of our not having gotten enough nurturance when we were young (and therefore not being equipped with the brain maturity/development to do our parenting jobs with more ease), and our being handed these ridiculous, uniformed parenting techniques that focus on making our children behave and not on teaching them to relate with other well-developed humans in society.

      I wish you nothing but the best, good sir. I’m assuming you’re a parent, and I hope that everything goes swimmingly for you and yours on your parenting journey. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

      Be well.

      • Stephen Becket says:

        Firstly, I find your reply patronising and slightly insulting but I can handle that!
        Second, we actually both agree that essentially all the people’s of the world are basically good people and we all want the same basic thing, irrespective of race, creed or politics.
        Third, you missed my point that the article is misleading for those with no previous parenting experience. It is warm and cuddly and sounds wonderful and gives the wrong impression to young parents. Children coming into a family is the most wonderful happening. However they are one of a group and have a place in that group. This doesn’t in anyway devalue the importance of emotional development of the child. As you have said (in a pseudo scientific way, that may impress some but not me) when children are born they know nothing but instinct and are receptive to learn all sorts of things at a far greater rate than at any other time of their life, therefore I’m saying that they need to be taught to be part of the family first and foremost and this can be done without damaging their self esteem or self worth.
        Lastly, parents need to realise that we have our children for a short period of time – 18 to 20 years and then they build their own lives. Yes, we still keep in touch but parents find they suddenly have their own lives to live. I have seen so many families fall apart because the focus is purely on the children and the parents drift in different directions. It’s then that the children really suffer. I heard someone the other day saying that theirs was a child-centric home. That is a disaster in the making! How good it would have been if they’d said it was going to be a family-centric home! So next time you publish and article please make sure it is balanced.

        For the record my children are in their 30s and I have a grand child. My daughter makes sure there is time for her and her husband as well as the baby and they are a blissfully
        happy group.

        Kindest regards,
        Stephen .

      • Hey Stephen,

        You don’t know me at all, but honestly, you absolutely misread me if you think I am attempting to patronize or insult you. That’s not at all who I am, nor what this blog is about, nor even how I read (having now re-read) the response I gave you. I’m not even sure what it is that would hit you that way. Nevertheless, please allow me to offer you my condolences on those feelings. I certainly wouldn’t like feeling that way about someone’s response to me, so I can completely empathize with your being bothered by what you perceived.

        Now as to your reply — I actually don’t think I did miss your point that “the article is misleading for those with no previous parenting experience”. In fact, that was one of the points I sought directly to address in my previous response. I definitely got your point, I just happen to disagree with you, that’s all. I think it gives just the right impression to young parents — not one that is in line with the prevailing parenting mythology, but one that is more in line with what parents need to hear by far. I will certainly concede that there are plenty of parents who lean too far toward the kinds of examples you give. I also believe that those parents are far and away the minority. And I still stand by my assertion that: “If this is all you ever read or learned about parenting, it would still be better than most of the tripe we’ve inherited from the Behaviorists, but it certainly wouldn’t be a definitive account of all that is necessary.” — no one here is saying this is all there is to it, by any means. And I don’t think it pretends to be about anything other than what it says in the title. It certainly isn’t setting itself up as the only thing you need to know about parenting.

        As to the rest, I still have to say that I think you’re referring, with your comments thus far, to a whole host of other thoughts on, ideas about, and examples of parenting that this article does not include or try to. In this blog, which I’ve been running for the last 2+ years, I have done a fair amount of writing about a broad range of ideas, and approaches to parenting, as well as just musing on my own enjoyable (though, yes, sometimes challenging) experience as a parent. I have sought to be as comprehensive as I can, because I know there is a gigantic universe of concerns that new (and even seasoned) parents have, and a plethora of issues to consider. This post is just one point of light in a growing galaxy! The idea, for me, is not to just send one note to all the parents of the world and be done with it. I want to have an ongoing conversation — albeit mostly but not exclusively one-sided — that parents can tap into and find out all kinds of things in one place. I want to provide a perspective on parenting that is authentic and honest as well as researched and experienced (and yes, I do actually research all that neuroscience with which you were so enthralled…). I’m here to offer ongoing support, information, and a view of parenting from here — not a fly-by-night fix-all solution to everyone’s parenting issues.

        So you weren’t impressed. Eh… I won’t take it personally if you won’t!

        At any rate, thanks for the clarification about your parenting status. I was being absolutely sincere in wishing you well, and thanking you for sharing your perspective. I do appreciate it, even if I won’t agree. And I certainly do wish you and your children and your grandchild nothing but the best. And though, after the content of your reply, I think I detect just the slightest hint of sarcasm in your “kindest regards” — I will return the sentiment, if not the tenor.

        Be well, Steven. And have fun with that grandbaby!

  10. mummyshymz says:

    Thank you for posting this. I think I have committed several of the mistakes mentioned in your post. Definitely need to take note of the points mentioned.

    • Glad you found something useful in the post, Mummyshymz!

      Of course we’ve (almost all) done some if not all of the things described above. I think it mostly isn’t our fault, and never too late to “reboot” and reorient our parenting path, but I applaud the courage it takes for any of us to do it.

      Keep checking back for more encouragement! This blog is pretty much all about parenting with empathy.

      Be well.

  11. Caroline ferguson says:

    Firstly, this was a beautiful read and I found it to be the direction I’m trying with my younger two, without being consciously question is,as I am not very computer literate and atm only have the use of my smart phone, so I’m hoping I can still do as I’m about to ask.I would love to subscribe (if thats way it’s called :D) to your blog, but have no idea how I do this! Could you please let me know the steps to take? Again, thankyou for an enlightening and beautiful read, I look forward to reading much more.

    • Caroline —

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed the post.

      Since I can see your email address with your comment, I can enter it for you (in the subscription box on the home page of the blog). Then you will get an authentication email at that address. Hopefully you will be able to confirm the subscription from that point on your smart phone. Let me know if that doesn’t work and I will help you figure out what to do next/instead.

      And welcome aboard!

      Be well.

    • Oh wow, Claire, you found a good one in the stacks! Natalie first got this published when Mothering was still a hardcopy periodical. The principles in this post have become a large part of the workshop that we currently offer (for parents and teachers) called Building Emotionally Safe Space. The other big component is of course empathy! We’ve been doing it for the last year in our home community and took it “on the road” for a teeny western tour this past winter and early spring. So this post is an “old but a goody” and still pertinent and vital for learning/considering how to make it safe for our kids to get help with their emotional processing. They need our help so much, so the safer we can make that for them, the better!

      Thanks for the thanks!
      Be well.

      • Claire H says:

        Well dear, it’s never too late to learn. the more i read, the clearer it is: there is so much we don’t know. we do our best, like our parents did with us – but that’s not enough, is it? the best gift in life is emotional security and confidence, the rest will just follow.
        Thank you so much for teaching me along the way
        Be well ♥

  12. Claire H says:

    By the way, if there are links you think i should start with, please share 🙂

    • I think you’re already finding all my bests. “Empathy parenting” in the tag cloud (sidebar) is a good option for all my posts in this vein. Then also in the sidebar, I have links to other websites, posts, and books that I find helpful. Also there’s the new Community! page tab which has links to my main inspirers and cohorts in the EP movement.

      So glad you’re finding stuff that resonates with you!

  13. NB says:

    Wonderfully written! I worked with children in a role as clinical therapist and taught similar concepts. I chose to pause my career as I raised our children. I was completely surprised to find the application of these principles difficult. Not because they were incorrect… but because of the healing I needed to enable full implementation. When we are healthy parents, we nurture healthy children… when we allow space and healing of our emotions we enable it for our children.

    • Oh yes! I love that NB!

      I think there is healing (and the triggering leading to it) that we can only get once we are in the process of parenting. The cingulate cortex entrainment we experience with our children (especially when they are upset) is unparalleled in the rest of life, except in the experience of our own maturation. So all the upper brain plans and ideas we have about parenting can easily fly out the window when we’re suddenly faced with all our old wounds in the midst of our kid(s) having a huge emotional reaction to something. Powerfully transformative stuff there. Which is, actually, a big part of why I now also do work with parents around healing their early life and inherited trauma(s). Here’s more information on that, if you happen to be interested:

      Thanks for writing in NB!

      Be well.


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