“So what I’m hearing you say is your friend found the dead mouse on the playground and put it in your lunchbox during recess? I’m writing this down as I want to get the details correct.”

My principal is a genius.  You can’t make up the stories that you hear in elementary school.  Yes, as a 2nd grade teacher I opened a lunchbox and found a dead mouse sitting on top of my student’s turkey sandwich container. I quickly decided this was above my pay grade and enlisted my principal to solve the case. I do lots of things, as all teachers do, that don’t necessarily fit into my job description, but I draw the line at dead rodents.

My son, Keener, started to help feed our family dog, Hank.  He loved everything about the process from opening the closet door, scooping the food, watching the dog drool, and finally putting the bowl down so Hank could chow down.  Then one day, my husband fed Hank as Keener was heading into the kitchen. The sound of the food hitting the metal bowl sent Keener into a tailspin – cue the tears.

Sometimes we are afraid of our children being upset.  We are quick to “do it over.” In the feeding Hank example, I could have said “OK, you want to feed Hank? You can give him another small scoop,” and that would have briefly made the sadness go away.  We may think that by making the sadness go away in the short term, we are helping our children be happy. I think we need to take a step back from that approach. What are you really teaching your child if you are giving them everything they are asking for?  Is that realistic? What happens when they ask for a pony and the answer has to be no?  Teaching a child how to handle disappointment and to be flexible are gifts we must teach our children.  Yes, teach. They are not going to develop strategies in how to handle disappointment and be flexible if we do not actively teach them.

Everyone wants to have his or her voice heard and children are no different.  They want to be heard and they want to feel validated. It gives those big, new feelings a place to exist within the child.  It develops a place they can fall back on and remember, “I’ve had a similar feeling like this in the past. It’s OK to feel this way and I will be just fine.” For the feeding Hank situation, I instead said to Keener, “I can tell that you are frustrated.  Did you want to feed Hank?” Through tears and sniffles, he said, “yes, I want to do it.” In response I said, “Today, Daddy fed him breakfast. Sometimes Keener gets to feed Hank, sometimes Daddy or Mommy will feed Hank. Let’s make a plan.”

I then grabbed whatever paper/bill/grocery receipt was nearby and started writing and saying aloud, “Keener is feeling frustrated.  He would like to feed Hank dinner tonight.” I verified with Keener that this was the case and by writing it down, I could see his tears drying up and his breaths calming down.  His voice was heard. A plan was made. I took a page out of my principal’s book and decided to write down what was being said, no matter how trivial it might seem to an adult.

Give it a try.  Next time your child is upset, grab a piece of paper and write down how they are feeling and what the plan is.  Sometimes the plan will include what your child wants to do, and sometimes it won’t. That’s OK. It is our job as parents to teach them to cope with those big feelings of disappointment and learn how to be flexible. Start by validating that those feelings exist and are present.

Language to Use:

It sounds like…

When I see you crying, it makes me think you are upset.  It’s OK to feel upset.

What I’m hearing is…

It looks like…

When you use a yelling voice, it makes me think you are frustrated.  Everyone feels frustrated sometimes.

The goal here is to validate their emotions, and bring them down to a more calm emotional level.  Think about when you are upset. Are you going to respond to someone who is telling you to “get over it” or to “just stop crying.”?  Certainly not. We can’t expect a young child to exhibit more emotional self-control than we can. Give them an opportunity to have their voice be heard. Listen, write it down, and assure them that the feeling they have is OK.

Related Posts to Come:

Being flexible

Making a plan

Teaching patience


  1. I love this! 🙂 I think I should use this with Sienna when she doesn’t let me go to the bathroom 😉 In all seriousness, this is really good advice, and advice that Brendan follows much better than I do. Looking forward to reading more entries!

    • Thanks Lindsay! My hope is to share advice that is practical, transferrable to many situations, and can be implemented right away. You definitely need to be able to go to the bathroom! 🙂

    • Isn’t it funny the things they get hung up on? I have to always remind myself that it truly matters to them even though it seems so insignificant. Thanks!

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