I hear you and I know how tricky it is when your child’s emotional responses seem totally disproportionate to what just happened.

When your child explodes and implodes all over the shop and it feels impossible to relate to or keep up with.

In this blog you will discover what emotional intelligence is, why it’s important and what to say to a child or teen who is ‘emotional’.

We will look at why it’s so important to get right and how it can lead to your child feeling anxious if you don’t.


Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. It is the key to both personal and professional success.

As a society we worship at the altar of academic intelligence. But without emotional intelligence, academic intelligence is literally just ‘academic’, of merely theoretical interest and without practical relevance.

We have a choice about how we respond when our children have melt-downs and are being emotional.

But on the whole

  • we are not conscious of having any options for how we respond.
  • We respond similarly to how we were responded to when we were small people.
  • Most responses aim to avoid a big public display of emotions


suck it up | life’s not fair | never mind | there there | don’t cry | nothing to be scared of | don’t worry | monsters don’t exist | that won’t happen | you are overreacting | don’t be so sensitive | buck up | you are fine | get on with it | stop crying for no reason | life’s not fair | get over it?

Have you heard of the term ‘gaslighting’?

The phrase was coined after the 1944 film Gaslight, meaning to manipulate someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.

We gaslight our children when we respond to their emotional distress with the phrases above.

Is life fair? No probably not! Does it help to point that out to your heartbroken child? Definitely not.

If your child is incredibly upset about something and you tell them they are ‘fine’* you invalidate their feelings. The issue might seem entirely trivial to you, but it is clearly not to them.

When feelings are invalidated it creates a conflict for the child.

Their reality, in that moment, is ‘inconsolable devastation’ which is felt in their body as horribly uncomfortable sensations. But then you tell them that they are ‘fine’* or that they should be ‘fine’*.


A while back I was at the funeral of a beloved friend and I was crying my heart out as I said good bye.

A well-meaning friend, put her arm around me and told me ‘there, there, don’t cry, it’s for the best’.

I got the message and I ‘sucked’ it up there and then.

But afterwards I had a heavy sensation in my chest for weeks. And I got angry very easily. And angrier and angrier – until eventually I exploded at something or other.

If you can’t weep and feel sorrow at a funeral, when can you?

So I no longer listen to what other people tell me I should or shouldn’t feel in any given moment. I allow myself to feel my feelings as they arise.

Well…I try!

It requires constant vigilance because we are all ‘programmed’ by the prevailing culture to listen to what others tell us we should or shouldn’t feel, instead of listening to what our body tells us we are feeling.

  • The thing is, your body always tell the truth.
  • Your mind, on the other hand, will tell you a whole long story of shoulds, oughts and musts, but rarely the truth.



When they are upset they need to know that we’re there for them, that we believe them, and that we believe in them.

‘I get it’ and ‘I understand that you feel the way you do.’

When we tell our kids that we get it and we understand we’re letting them know we’re there.

Think of emotions as e-motions = energy in motion. The feelings want to be felt and then they move on and out. Our job is to help our child allow those feelings to have their natural expression without judgment.

Develop a vocabulary and help your child name the emotions. This allows them to be on first name terms with these big bodily feelings.

What’s underneath the ‘emotional’ iceberg?

Is it fear, rejection, embarrassment, stress, helplessness, trauma, insecurity, envy, disappointment, guilt, trapped, attacked, grumpy, frustrated, disgusted, shamed, overwhelmed, unsure, worried, lonely, hurt, distrustful, depressed, scared, grief, tricked, annoyed, disrespected, jealousy, offended or regretful?

Don’t judge feelings or categorise them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings. They are all valid feelings and all they ever want is to be felt.

Help your child observe themselves by saying ‘I can see you are really angry’ (fists clenched, red face, narrowed eyes) or ‘sad’ (hunched shoulders, teary eyes, shaky voice) and ‘I am sorry about that’ (not sorry about what you said or what caused it) and ‘is there anything I can do to help?’

Respond to their emotion instead of their behaviour: Say you can see that they are very angry, and you are really sorry they are, will literally stop the anger on its only too predictable and destructive path.

Try it and let me know how it goes.

Getting in a funk and judging a feeling causes the feeling to get stuck. It then over-stays its welcome and starts to fester.

The pure feeling, if allowed to be fully felt, will pass quickly.

*PSSSST: ‘fine’ stands for f***ed up, insecure, neurotic (and) emotional. You don’t want to be fine, no one wants to be fine and you certainly don’t want you child to be fine!


How do you deal with an ‘emotional’ child? Have you noticed how that word has become loaded with judgment? Are you consciously aware of the tendency to shut down all emotional displays? Leave a comment below or come on over to the Facebook group and join in the discussion.


expert advice? I have a limited number of free WayForward Consultations available each month that you can book right here and get help weathering the emotional storms.


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