Does your child get really angry or throw tantrums when you try to talk to her after she makes a poor choice? How you respond to your child after something goes wrong for her can have a large impact on her future emotional response to challenges.

Let’s say you are driving through a construction zone. Your passengers are your spouse, your parents and your in-laws. Everyone is busy talking and asking you questions causing you to be  distracted. A police siren starts wailing and you are pulled over for speeding in a construction zone. You receive a ticket and know all that it implies: a $110 ticket, traffic school and increased insurance rates. You continue driving.

Highlight the emotions you feel after reading each response below.








Feeling understood

Like you want to shut down

Fighting mode




Connected with others



Your father-in-law says: You know, the next time you go through a zone you should slow down. You could hurt a construction worker. Advice 

Your spouse says: It is difficult to be a police officer. He just needs to fill a quota for his job. Seeing things from the officer’s perspective 

Your mother-in-law says: I don’t know why you are getting so upset. It is just a ticket. Come on smile, you look so nice when you smile. Denial 

Your father says: Why were you speeding? Did you know it was a construction zone? Do you know what kind of lawsuits it could generate if you had hit a worker? Questions

Your mother says: You poor thing. That officer was such a jerk to you! Who does he think he is giving you a ticket! Pity

Your mother-in-law says: You know the real reason you are frustrated? I think that police officer represents a father figure to you and it brings out your feelings of anger towards your own father. Psychoanalysis

Your spouse says: Getting a ticket is so irritating! It didn’t help that there was so much commotion going on in the car. Empathy 

How did you feel in response to those statements/questions? How did you feel with the empathy response?

Imagine how your child feels when these methods are used on him after he breaks a toy, learns his pet died, or has to leave a fun sandbox. Which comments would bring you closer to and which would bring you further away from your child? Would your child feel like you understand what is important to him?

After something frustrating first happens, your brain enters the fight, flight or freeze mode which can make problem solving more difficult. Until a person has cooled off or had time to cope with the problem, it is usually best just to be empathic. Later, if the problem continues to repeat itself, all parties involved can try the problem solving method.


Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (1999). How to talk so kids will listen & listen so 
kids will talk. New York, NY: Harper Paperbacks.