Parents Who Know Their Child's Emotions have Power Over Them, Practice Labeling

Why does this work? We know only a couple parts of the story. The first is that parents who possess emotional information gain the great power of behavioral prediction. Moms and dads become so acquainted with their children’s psychological interiors, they become pros at forecasting probable reactions to almost any situation. This results in an instinctive feel about what is most likely to be helpful, hurtful, or neutral to their child, and in a wide variety of circumstances. That’s about as valuable a parenting skill as you can have.
The second is that parents who continue paying attention over the years are not caught off-guard by their children’s ever-changing emotional development. That’s important, given the tectonic shifts that occur in the brain’s development during childhood. As kids brains change, their behavior changes, which results in more brain changes. These parents experience fewer surprises as their children grow up.


“I don’t like it, the 3-year-old muttered to herself as the guests left. Miserable throughout her older sister’s birthday party, she was now growing angry. “I want Ally’s doll, not this one!” Her parents had bought her a consolation present, but the strategy went down like a bomb. The girl threw her doll to the floor. “Ally’s doll! Ally’s doll!” She began to cry. You can imagine a parent making any of several choices in the face of this bubbling brew.

“You seem sad. Are you sad? is what the girl’s dad said. The little girl nodded, still angry, too. The dad continued. “I think I know why. You’re sad because Ally’s gotten all the presents. You only got one!” The little girl nodded again. “You want the same number and you can’t have it, and that’s unfair and that makes you sad.” The dad seemed to be pouring it on. “Whenever somebody gets something I want and I don’t, I get sad, too.” Silence.

Then the dad said the line most characteristic of a verbalizing parent. “We have a word for that feeling, honey”, he said. “Do you want to know what that word is?” She whimpered, “OK.” He held her in his arms. “We call it being jealous. You wanted Ally’s presents, and you couldn’t have them. You were jealous.” She cried softly but was beginning to calm down. “Jealous”, she whispered. “Yep”, Dad replied, “and it’s an icky feeling.” “I been jealous all day”, she replied, nestling into her daddy’s big strong arms.

This big-hearted father is good at a) labeling his feelings and b) teaching his daughter to label hers. He knows what sadness in his own heart feels like and announces it easily. He knows what sadness in his child’s heart looks like, and he is teaching her to announce it, too. He is also good at teaching joy, anger, disgust, concern, fear—the entire spectrum of his little girl’s experience.

Research shows that this labeling habit is a dominant behavior for all parents who raise happy children. Kids who are exposed to this parenting behavior on a regular basis become better at self-soothing, are more able to focus on tasks, and have more successful peer relationships. Sometimes knowing what to do is tougher than knowing what to say. But sometimes saying is all that’s needed.


Parents who raise kids like my friend Doug, the valedictorian, have this type of courage in spades. They are fearless in the face of raging floods of emotions from their child. They don’t try to shoot down emotions, ignore them, or let them have free reign over the welfare of the family. Instead, these parents get involved in their kids strong feelings. They have four attitudes toward emotions (yes, their meta-emotions):

• They do not judge emotions. • They acknowledge the reflexive nature of emotions. • They know that behavior is a choice, even though an emotion is not. • They see a crisis as a teachable moment.


Parents who pay attention to their children's emotional states can recognize the inner workings of their children and respond to them more effectively. Teach your children the names of the emotions they are experiencing to give them control over them.

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 Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Medina , John (2010-10-12), Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five, Pear Press, Retrieved on 2011-07-27
Folksonomies: parenting pregnancy babies child development