Why do parents feel so upset, and even angry, when their children are upset?
We have a theory. When our children are babies, they depend on us for everything.
If they are upset, it is our job (rightfully so) to figure out why, and to fix it.
So now, when our children are 8, or, 13, or 17, we are conditioned to jump into
action when our children are upset. If a child whines, rolls their eyes, cries, or
struggles, we think: “I need to fix this. If I can’t, I must be failing in my role as a
But consider this: As your children grow, they need to learn to rely on you less and
less so that they can rely on themselves. This is a requirement of independence.
Each time they are upset, they have an opportunity to learn how to take care of
themselves. They have an opportunity to learn coping skills.
As they grow older, your job is to slowly transfer more and more responsibility to
them so that they can care for themselves.
So, you aren’t failing your child when they are upset and you can’t resolve their
negative feelings. You are allowing them to grow.
Here is the other thing to keep in mind ...
Negative emotions aren’t bad. We call them negative because they feel bad, but
negative feelings are actually good. They are trying to tell us something about what we need—what we need to change or do for ourselves in order to feel better. They are pointing us to an act of self-care.
Anger can point us in the direction of standing up for ourselves.
Sadness can remind us to spend time with people who make us feel loved.
Shame can propel us towards having more compassion for ourselves and others.
The plain fact is: Everyone is different. Your child is going to practice self-care in a way that differs from the way you practice self-care. What your child needs in life to thrive is not the same thing you need. Your children have to figure out their own self-care plans—and they need to be allowed to do that without Mom or Dad trying to erase their negative emotions.
So the next time your child is upset and you cannot fix it, take a deep breath and
remind yourself that “not doing” is sometimes exactly the right thing to do.
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