Helping children process and heal from strong emotions

My daughter, who’s on the verge of turning 3, recently had a brief scary moment where she couldn’t find me at the playground. Though it was less than a minute before she spotted me again, for a child that young, that’s a long time and it can really leave an impression.

As I scooped her up into my arms, she started to cry and said, “I was looking for you everywhere. I couldn’t find you!” In the moment, I empathized with her sadness and acknowledged that it had been really scary for her. I held her for a while and then suggested we ride the swings, which is her favorite thing to do at the park.

After this incident, occasionally, she’s wanted to talk about what had happened. Sometimes when we mention that playground, she’ll talk about “one time I didn’t know where you were,” or when we’re snuggling at bedtime, she’ll suddenly start reminiscing about it and going over the details of it again. She also occasionally replays other upsetting moments — like when she was running outside her brother’s school and skinned her knee.

Often parents try to stop their child from reliving a sad or scary moment, worrying that it will only upset them more. Since the moment has passed, it could seem like nothing good can come from being sad over it again. In reality, many children need to talk about upsetting moments multiple times as they work to process the intense emotions they felt. While it may seem counterproductive, this helps them to work through it.

Trying to stop a child from discussing it again can actually cause them to stuff the emotions inside and never really resolve their pain. Talking about it can help them to feel better.

When my daughter brings it up now, after I acknowledge her feelings again, I also remind her, “But then you found me and I hugged you. Then, I pushed you on the swings.” I want to make sure she remembers how I comforted her afterwards and that we turned it into an opportunity to connect. This way, it doesn’t seem quite as upsetting, and it helps to turn it into more of a positive memory than one that makes her sad. I hope that in this way I’m helping her to process her emotions and to show that I’m there to support her through them.


Inspired to read more about children and strong emotions?

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Creating space to “hold” your child’s

Helping children through divorce

Stay patient while teaching toddlers how to handle strong emotions


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Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 1)

Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 2)

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How little we really know about the topic of shame

Connection after breastfeeding

My 3-year-old daughter recently found our old nursing pillow in the closet. It had been about a year since we finished nursing, so I was surprised when she said, “Remember I used to lay on this?”

She didn’t remember actually nursing, though, and when I told her that’s how I used to feed her, she had a lot of questions like, “Was the food on the floor?” I explained what nursing was, and she smiled and asked sweetly, “Can we do that now?”

While we couldn’t nurse, I did set the pillow on my lap and let her climb up on it. She lay there smiling up at me and started twirling my hair, her favorite relaxing activity.

I hear a lot of moms who are starting to wean worrying that they’ll be sad once they’re done nursing, or that they’ll miss this time for connection.

My daughter and I have found many other ways of bonding as she’s grown older. There are more “I love yous” and kisses from her and more time for playing her favorite activities one-on-one. We still lie together often and bedshare part of the night. While these activities aren’t quite replacements for nursing, they are wonderful ways that we can keep a strong attachment.

After she laid on the nursing pillow on my lap, we were able to play together for about 30 minutes while her brothers were playing on their own. She created a game for us where she’d pretend that it was nighttime and we would pretend to sleep, sharing a pillow and cuddling under the same blanket.

It’s nice for us to reminisce about the time we nursed and to remember that it was one of the ways that our attachment developed in her earliest years, but we’re still enjoying other opportunities for connection now. And I know that even when she’s older and these games are over, there will be other things to replace them, such as times where we can talk about her day at school or other one-on-one activities we can do together.


Inspired to read more about breastfeeding?

API’s Breastfeeding Library

Nature’s Case for Breastfeeding

The Real Breastfeeding Story

A story of working and breastfeeding, and staying determined

Editor’s pick: To promote breastfeeding is to promote Attachment Parenting

4 ideas for gentle weaning

Morning cuddles: a story of child-led weaning

When Your Partner Wants You to Wean: Heart Advice for Nursing Mothers

5 tips for a strong nursing relationship while working away from home

This is how my son started to enjoy reading

Editor’s note: May is Get Caught Reading Month. Founded in 1999, this campaign was launched to remind people about the joys and fun of reading. Reading can be informative for parents as they navigate through the challenges of parenting and the various stages of their child’s development. Reading can also serve as a supportive way to deepen attachment and nurture relationships:

When my son was 6 and recently started reading on his own, he didn’t enjoy reading as much as I’d hoped he would.

I was a little discouraged, because I know how important reading is for children and because I felt that I’d done everything I was supposed to do in order to instill a love of reading in my child. I’d read to him since birth, had plenty of books around the house, made sure he saw me reading frequently, and provided opportunities to go to the library since he was a baby. It seemed that he should like to read.

The Best Encouragement May Not Be Any at All

I was somewhat torn about what to do. I wanted to encourage him, because I believe that reading is important and beneficial to children. But I didn’t want to push him too much to the point where reading became something that was a chore rather than a fun hobby.

I knew I didn’t want to make a reading log, because I knew the research showed that they actually backfire and make kids less inclined to read on their own. If he was going to read, I wanted it to be because of an intrinsic desire to do so, and I didn’t want my efforts to backfire.

So, I backed off a little bit and accepted that maybe he just wasn’t going to love reading.

Like all things with parenting, even when do we everything “right” to encourage the best habits out of our children, we also know that they are their own person with their own desires, interests, and personalities. I’d done my best to encourage an interest in reading and continued to do so, but I also accepted that even if he wasn’t a book lover like me, perhaps he would instead find other ways to learn and spend his time productively.

Shortly after this shift in my mindset, he had a sudden desire to start reading more. Part of it was returning to school for the start of first grade and having a friend who enjoyed reading the Magic Tree House book series. Soon, my son was interested in these books, too, and couldn’t get enough of them.

Now, he reads most days on the way to and from school and also at bedtime, though I don’t force it and I’m fine if he wants to take a day off.

An Unexpected Connection Point

Many nights, as he’s reading, I’ll sit beside him reading my own book — he really enjoys this. Even though we’re not talking, we’re sharing this activity that we both love. Just like when I read aloud to him when he was a newborn so that he could hear my voice, it’s a great way for us to connect.

Get outside and get into nature

Tomorrow, April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. As you renew your commitment to care for our planet, keep in mind that the absolutely greatest contribution we can make toward Earth’s stewardship is to raise children who care.

Children raised in a caring family environments have greater capacity for empathy not only toward themselves and others but their communities and world. Children tend to care more deeply about what their parents hold and express as family values. To nurture their interest in nature, children need a parent or another caring adult to take them outdoors and share in their curiosity and wonder.

It’s not enough to say you care for the planet — you got to live it and model it to your children.

So, get the whole family out into nature. Plant a tree. Pick up litter in the park. Construct bee, bat, and bird houses. Participate in citizen scientist pollinator or toad counts. Watch nature documentaries. Visit your local natural history museum. Go camping. Turn over a log to discover insects underneath. Go to the zoo. Watch the birds and squirrels. Take a walk. Go cloud-watching. Pick wildflowers. Wade in a creek.

Need more inspiration? Children who get unstructured playtime outside are healthier, earn better grades, and receive other benefits — learn more in this video from the Nature Kids Institute:

Why Kids Need Nature” from Kenny Ballentine on Vimeo.

Imagine an entire generation of secure attachment

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