Responding to Everyday Emotional Reactions in School Age Children

boy refusing to eat food

You know those moments when your kids have mild negative emotional reactions – like when your school age child whines about doing homework, gets in your face to MAKE you look at something, or has a little attitude about cleaning up a mess? These little emotionally charged moments aren’t a huge dispute, and they don’t mean that your child doesn’t respect you. It’s just a brief second where your child’s negative emotions just got a little ahead of them.

But how should we handle these little moments of anger or sadness or attitude? A recent study in the journal Family Relations explored this question!

Sometimes parents might gravitate toward a negative verbal response to these little moments – we might be critical of our child’s behavior (“you shouldn’t whine”), make negative statements about it (“grow up”), or verbally dismiss what our child said (“too bad”). But this study found that these parent negative verbal reactions actually increased the likelihood of children to do MORE negative behavior (whether it be whining, attitude, or whatever else).

On the flip side, some parents might try to offer some emotional support to their child. This is sometimes called emotion coaching – where you take the opportunity to validate your child, label the emotion, and help them problem solve (which is something we really work on with our younger children, right?) Previous research has suggested that supportive statements from parents can help decrease negative reactions from a child, but this study did not find a relationship between the supportive statements and these everyday type of negative interactions with school age children. The researchers suggest that maybe these supportive statements are more helpful with bigger outbursts rather than the everyday mild negative reactions.

Wait – if we aren’t responding negatively AND if being emotionally supportive doesn’t seem to make a difference in changing our child’s response, what are we actually supposed to do? Well according to this study, ignoring these little emotional reactions in our school age kiddos may be our best bet!

So next time you’ve had a long day, and your elementary age child is pushing your last button with that mild little negative emotional response, remember to just ignore it (which, I mean, at the end of a hard day sometimes it’s easier to ignore it than to engage in a emotion coaching type of situation anyway – parent win!). Ignoring your child’s little negative response may just give them the chance to practice their own emotion regulation skills!

Source: Sperling, J., & Repetti, R. L. (2018). Understanding Emotion Socialization Through Naturalistic Observations of Parent–Child Interactions. Family Relations, 67(3), 325-338. Retrieved from

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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