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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I’m So Mad I Can’t See Straight

When I get mad (and yes I sometimes do) I can feel it in my body.  I get tense, my voice changes, and I’m sure my blood pressure rises. There’s a definite physical reaction which is a clue that I need to calm down.

Children also experience physical responses when they are mad. But they need help in learning to recognize the reactions.  Then the next step is to figure out something else to do to defuse or calm that physical response.

Here’s an example. Kids often throw things when they get mad. Or they will bite, pinch, kick or hit someone. Those are not good ways to calm down. But the kids need a physical outlet for the anger. They can bounce a ball, run around the yard, punch a pillow, dance to music.

Once the physical reaction is lessened, then you can move to communicating and problem solving. But remember to first deal with the physical reactions to turn the anger down a notch.

So what do your kids see you doing when you get mad? I head out for a brisk walk, sometimes muttering to myself. But I almost always return calmer and ready to focus on whatever it was that made me so mad I couldn’t see straight.

What helps you calm down when you are mad? What are you teaching your child to do to calm down?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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