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Learning More About Emotionally-Attuned Parenting

In previous blog posts, we talked about the importance of emotion regulation, and how parents can support the development of emotion regulation in their children. Similarly, parents who are attuned to their child’s emotions, while still maintaining firm limits, not only support healthy emotion regulation, but also enhance the relationship between parent and child. When parents acknowledge their child’s emotions, provide calm containment for what seems overwhelming, while still keeping stable boundaries for them, they are parenting in an authoritative, yet emotionally-attuned way.

Being emotionally-attuned, however, doesn’t mean you over-identify with your child’s emotions. It means keeping our own emotions as parents in check. Children don’t want their parents to be as scared, hurt or angry as they are; they want someone who can contain those feelings for them and make them feel safe.

It also doesn’t mean that you change your stance on rules and limits. You can acknowledge that it’s really hard when your son doesn’t get a toy at the toy store without buying a toy for him. Similarly, you can mirror your daughter’s frustration with doing homework instead of going out with friends, but that doesn’t mean the homework isn’t still the priority.

There are a number of great books that emphasize the important role of emotional attunement when parenting children and adolescents. Some of these include:

  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
  • How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk – Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
  • The Explosive Child – Ross Greene
  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child – John Gottman
  • Attachment-Focused Parenting – Daniel Hughes
  • Connected Parenting – Jennifer Kolari
  • Parenting from the Inside Out – Daniel Siegel
  • The Whole Brain Child – Daniel Siegel
  • The Incredible Years – Carolyn Webster-Stratton
  • Time-In Parenting – Otto Weinberger

The authenticity of how we respond when our child is overwhelmed plays a big role in how safe and understood a child feels. Usually, a meltdown or frustration de-escalates more quickly if we genuinely attend to the emotions that are being expressed. It takes practice to get it right, and to make it feel authentic. As kids or teens calm down, we are then able to help problem-solve through the situation, in a positive – rather than punitive – way.

Not only does emotionally-attuned parenting serve to help kids co-regulate their big emotions, it also builds trust and connection between the parent and child.

Meredith Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych.

About Meredith Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Meredith A. M. Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience in psychological assessment and treatment of children, youth and their families across a range of developmental and mental health conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), anxiety and mood disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, disruptive behaviour disorders, adjustment disorders, learning disabilities, and parent-child relational conflict. She brings exceptional skill to the provision of care for children and families and strives to collaborate with clinicians across disciplines, to best support the complex needs of her clients.

Learn more about Meredith Gillespie, Ph.D., C.Psych.

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