Kids and emotional resilience


To not keep cluttering up Able_Jack’s journal, I thought I’d start a thread discussing ideas for modeling or teaching emotional health to kiddos. I know it’s not directly linked to money, but I think sound decision-making as a whole starts with lessons around wants and feelings. Now that a lot of my friends have babies and toddlers, I’ve been discussing this more in my life and I learn new things from friends that help me too.

With the caveat that different kids have different personalities, and some may need more positive reinforcement than others, in my own life the biggest keys for teaching my kiddo resilience and emotional awareness was honesty and talking talking talking, about everything in life, because everything is intertwined and builds on everything else. I should note my personal parenting philosophy is that kids know exactly who they are from the get go, and my job is to give them the tools to navigate their life while questioning the status quo, especially as a middle class white family in the US. Basically our general parenting tactic, covering all topics from day one, was to talk about how interactions with the world make us feel and then talk through what we wanted to do about it.

Things we did specifically to encourage our son to work through his emotions and practice empathy:

Talked about feelings as just that, rather than as identity i.e. “I feel sadness” instead of “I am sad”.

  • Listing something good that happened during his day

  • Listing something that made him happy

  • Listing something that made him sad or frustrated

  • Listing something we wanted to do differently next time

  • Listing something that made someone else happy or sad or frustrated

We started these conversations well before he could talk. Basically we wanted to establish the pattern of reflection, discernment, and problem solving as an ongoing thing. We actually did this for ourselves, really, and just included him in the conversation.

My son’s dad kept a detailed journal with our kiddo and oh, do I adore how toddlers think! These lists are especially funny when they have no concept of time or motive.

We also made a point to talk about strengths and weaknesses and the importance of failure. He was not naturally a gracious loser :wink: so there were a lot of conversations about it being ok to feel upset but some things are just going to be harder to be good at. Sometimes people practice every day and get better; sometimes people are just not ever going to be good at something they wish they were good at. Both his dad and myself had to work through perfectionist tendencies through early adulthood and didn’t want our son to develop that angst.

When he was little, we framed it very simply, with identifying the emotion, then offering binary choices. Like:
“It looks like you feel frustration that this puzzle is really hard for you. Is that what you are feeling? “
“Ok, well you can try again, or put it away for now. Try again? Ok, then you can try again on your own, or ask me for help. Which one feels right to you?”
Then while he worked on the puzzle just babbling along the lines of “It’s good to figure out things are hard for us. We can’t be good at everything but it’s good to try and to practice. It’s good to know when to ask for help.”

This did not come as easily to us as it sounds written down years later :rofl: – we literally wrote down the verbal formula on a regular basis, so that we could be consistent even when crabby, and my son’s dad was waaaay better at this than I am even now.

How about you? I love hearing what works in different families, and I always learn something that I can use in my own life :heart:


This is great. Friends of mine (who are kick ass parents IMHO) do a shorter version of this at bed time, what’s something good that happened today, what’s something that could [kid] could have done better, and a third thing that’s probably in line with that list.

I hadn’t thought of doing it as a journal. I came across something a few months ago saying that it’s good to have a plan for the day with small kids and incorporate their ideas in the plan - do you want to do coloring first or playing outside first? - and then have them write down the plan. Even for kids that can’t write yet, there’s value in them scribbling to “write” the plan because they’re holding the idea in their mind. Hmm, I may do something like this for my almost four year old, we haven’t done the birthday gifts yet so maybe I can also give him a journal that’s his and I can write down his answers every day (I won’t remember or feel like dealing with it if it’s post bed time).

Right now the only thing we’re doing for emotional resilience is keeping up a neutral face when he takes a spill, or just saying “Don’t do that, you’re going to get hurt” for small potatoes stuff, then when he continues to do whatever it is I usually say “Okay, that’s going to be a learning experience for you”.

Thank you for starting this conversation!


We do “highs and lows” each night at dinner. Everyone gets a turn and we naturally talk about each thing, the lows usually requiring further conversation. I like the idea of including what we could do differently next time. I think we do, anyway, but I’m going to make sure now.

I love what you wrote about identifying the emotion and then offering choices. That’s what I think of as meeting their feelings with empathy. Sure it’s frustrating when you’ve said “time to put away the toys” and they keep playing. But I’ve found it’s better to use empathy to get them on your side and then have what you want to happen be an exercise in cooperation rather than a power struggle. So instead of “I already told you…” or “How many times do I have to tell you…” or “Do what I say or you’ll be in trouble/go to time out/have a consequence (whatever it is people threaten)” I try to remember to say, “I know it’s no fun to have to stop playing. You wish you could play all night instead of clean up and get ready for bed, don’t you?” And keep going with the empathy and the identification of feelings and preferences, and then offer the choice. “Would you like me to help you put them away or do you want to show me how quickly you can do it yourself?” They feel understood, not coerced, and I’m still getting what I want but we both feel good about it. It worked great when they were younger, now I’m trying to figure out how to apply theses same principles to conversations with the tween. She is not so easily “duped” into a satisfactory resolution and is better at making arguments. :smiley:


I am quietly here, taking copious notes. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!! :heart:


Oooh meerkat, I love that idea!

I mistyped - my son’s dad kept a journal more for us, of things he and my son had done that day and things they talked about, since we worked opposite shifts for several years. And all the amazing creative hilarious things 3 and 4 years olds say :heart_eyes: It was really cool to look back and see what was important to our son at different ages (always cars, even now!).

I heard a podcast years ago about a therapy for kids with severe ADHD that was basically planning on paper. The goal was to retrain the brain’s impulse to jump to All The Things and break it down into manageable, sequential steps. So they’d ask a student whether they wanted to do activity A or activity B (and eventually worked up to What Would You Like to Do), then they had a worksheet where they’d break it down into small steps, from “find a teacher” “get supplies” to completion. I can totally see how journal/planner scribbles for young kids would help solidify ideas!

I like this way of thinking about it. I struggled way more than my son’s dad with this when I was tired. Neither of us ever fell into the power struggle mode with our words, but I know I had times where my verbal responses were scripted because I just wasn’t invested in that moment. Our son also went through a phase of having a made up language that we didn’t understand and he was so frustrated he started expressing all his feelings physically. We really had to back up and “identify the impulse” rather than assign an emotion to his actions. So: “I see you want to hit me, hitting hurts me and makes me sad, but you can hit this pillow instead” and not talking about his feelings until he got through the physical action. Throwing ice cream against the shower wall instead of cars at our bodies was my partner’s best idea ever :wink:

I wonder if your tween would be responsive to meetings or check-in dates? It wouldn’t help so much with pushback in the moment, though, but maybe would start to give understanding of the continued expectation of household respect? My kiddo was really into the concept of meetings so that worked for us in middle school - a formalized time every week or so just to check in. Most kids probably wouldn’t be into it as much as he was - we had an agenda and took notes, even, and he had “staff meetings” with imaginary friends when he was little - but the time set aside to talk about our relationship as people relating to each other was really fun. He often brought up things I hadn’t even noticed, like “last week when you said xyz it sounded really crabby and it hurt my feelings, but I didn’t want to be late to school so I didn’t talk about it.”

I accidentally discovered when he was in high school that having a couch in my bedroom meant teen coming in to tell me all his deepest thoughts at 11pm when I’d been asleep for an hour :wink:

We were hyperfocused on discussing healthy relationships partly because we were divorced and neither of us were in a relationship to model any of the back-and-forth of two people with different perspectives/feelings, and partly because he’s our only kid, so we also didn’t have a sibling relationship to moderate.

I am curious how big a mess I would’ve made with a precocious, questioning kid - mine is so literal/logical it didn’t take much to keep him on track through puberty. At least, that’s how I remember it from my empty nest, haha. I was so mean to my mom at that age :no_mouth:


I am appreciating all the information. My bit to add to the mix: teaching kids that sometimes their emotions are caused by physical/chemical/hormonal reactions, and that’s ok but they must still behave appropriately … And ALSO that it’s OK to talk to a doc about this and get medical help if needed. Whether that’s fixing a hormonal imbalance or a brain chemical receptor issue or a therapist. That was the little bit missing from my childhood, I got the emotional training bit, but struggled when my body had problems.

My other 2c is helping them see emotions as neutral and not as “good” emotions or “bad” emotions, because that’s another awkward fuckup my brain has and is not from my parents but sadly as a parent I need to push back on the messages from society about some of these things.


I’m following with interest as Baby PDM is quickly turning into Toddler PDM before our very eyes and has large emotions in a small package. I’m also the first to admit I am not “good” with feelings. And even worse with “talking”.
We own this book:

Which I think will be useful. But currently, I choose which books to read and 100% of the time I would choose this book instead:


I think that’s a brilliant idea. In my experience, kids love to feel they have power so a meeting would meet that need. And I think my particular tween would love it. There’s definitely an “administrator” side to her personality. Haha.

This sounds great, actually. I mean, not the being woken up part but I do hope my teens will pour their hearts out to me sometimes. I fear the withdrawing.


We did this tonight and I wrote their answers down in a little notebook. It helped me learn about the details of their day, which is valuable (like DS has moved up a daycare room and one answer indicates that he likes his new carers, which is great). Hopefully we can do this most nights as a nice reflective practice.


I think an important thing to learn, that I learned far later than I should have, is that all feelings are transitory. You need to pay attention the patterns, but the heat of the moment is rarely actually that important.

A corresponding lesson I’ve accumulated is that the brain has no choice but to feel it’s feelings. They cannot actually be avoided. The only thing we can control is our actions.


I recommend seeing if anyone in your area does a course on “circle of security”. I did one with a group here that was gov’t sponsored and free, but it was great at explaining how to support kiddo through feelings without getting in their way, as well as the balance between “we have time for your needs and feelings” and “parent has to take charge due to safety/ time/ whatever reasons”.


Another post to say that I very much appreciate the wisdom and discussion here.

My challenge with my two year old at the moment is ensuring that sometimes her feelings/wants are a priority too.

She is very tuned into the emotions of other children and wants them to feel happy. She will give a favourite toy to another child if the other child cries because they want it, even if she has spent a long time waiting for her turn.

On the one hand I am very proud of her for being able to do that, but I also don’t want her to start thinking that her role is to always please other people at the expense of the things she would enjoy doing. I was expected to do that a lot as a child and it is difficult to overcome the idea that other people’s happiness/convenience/comfort is more important than my own. I don’t want to repeat that.


@Able_Jack those are SO important. I still find myself trying to outlogic my emotions every now and then. As a young adult it was kinda mind-blowing to realize that feelings are literal, physical responses to stimulus that happen before your brain can assign a meaning. “Sitting with your feelings” and just letting them do what they want was so powerful. It’s no coincidence that mindfulness is the first step in many trauma programs.

@PDM that made me laugh!

@Cereal I’ll have to remember to ask my friend if I can share some of her toddler’s thoughts. He just went through a class transition and his observations are so fascinating and adorable.

@LadyDuck I’m going to look that program up when I’m back on a computer; it sounds really interesting.

@Pancakes I sympathize with seeing traits in your kiddo that aren’t the best-handled in ourselves! A coworker has a son who has always been extremely sensitive and empathetic and I know we’ve talked about this exact thing before. It feels even more important with societal gender expectations to shift this tendency in girls.



Why must you people treat me like this?


:joy: You explained that exact concept in a more palatable way, I’ll freely admit.

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You guys are awesome for discussing this. The extent of discussion in my household was very logic based and the fact that feelings don’t care about logic caused some issues.


My kid would ignore me and keep playing until the exact moment that I move to enforce consequences then suddenly he’d leap to cooperate as if that was his intention the whole time. He really likes to put a toe (or whole foot) past the line then pull it back like he hadn’t pressed the boundary in the first place, verbal warnings don’t really seem to work.

Or, lately, his line has been “Your turn” even though every time he’s cleaned up in the past he’s had an adult helping him (so the floor actually gets cleaned quickly and to help redirect him). Sigh.


I need these as posters please. These are great.


Some kids definitely need to push the boundaries more than others! I feel you on that. My younger one was pretty good at ignoring, too. We used to get really frustrated when he was a preschooler because the older one had been, well, easier. We could tell her stuff and she’d do it. With the boy, we’d find ourselves giving directions from the couch or wherever we were and being ignored and becoming increasingly angry. But then I read an article that gave me the idea to reframe it that he wasn’t choosing to “be bad” but that he couldn’t just do it it on his own so we needed to help him. Whether or not that was actually true, it didn’t really matter because the result was the same. He wasn’t doing it just a with a verbal direction, even a repeated one, and it was pissing us off. So the mantra became, “Do the thing, kid” and then he’d ignore so then we’d say, “Let me help you do the thing” and physically go to him and start that whole empathy/choice thing. It was more work for us, but less annoying and ultimately more effective. More effective because he learned he couldn’t just keep ignoring, the play was going to stop anyway and eventually he got better about listening without us having to physically go help him.

It sounds to me as if you’re already doing this, physically getting involved in whatever it is you want to happen, but I think the trick is how you view it. That’s why I brought up the helping thing. For us at least, the act of going to “help” him do the job and keep the connection good with empathy rather than anger and threats made us feel like we were being “good parents” rather than fighting with our kids who wouldn’t listen. Does that makes sense? I’m not sure the kid was really doing anything different, at first, but our view of the whole interaction changed and made for happier feelings all around. And I promise, not a spoiled kid who won’t do anything unless he’s wrangled an adult into helping him. :smiley: He’ll be nine in a couple of weeks and he mostly listens the first time and we don’t really have to break out the “let me help you” line anymore. Once in a while, he doesn’t listen and one of us will say, “Do I need to help you?” and he’ll roll his eyes and say no and do it. It’s almost a joke, because he knows that’s the baby line and he’s not a baby anymore!


I gotta say that I just love this. It’s great to see a kid’s desire for being more grown-up turn into actual grown-up responsible behavior. :slight_smile: