Active Parenting: Developing Positive Emotional Responses in Your Child

In working with children at any age I feel that it is most important to have active parent involvement in providing therapy to their child. You are the most powerful, influential person in your child's life. How you respond to situations whether they are happy, mad or sad will likely be how your child responds to these emotions. As a parent you can make minor adjustments in your parenting style or response that can have


profound impacts on your child's life in a positive way.  

There are times when a child needs to be seen individually for concerns related to depression, anxiety, anger and oppositional behaviors. However, I feel when dealing with a child's behavioral concerns, best outcomes result with active parent involvement in the therapeutic process.

Some things to think about when approaching parenting with your child:

How you respond, your child will respond.

"The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice."  

If you respond to being frustrated by yelling and screaming, it is likely when your child becomes frustrated they will respond with yelling and screaming. Parents are the primary model for children's behaviors and reactions.  You will notice this in positive ways when you see mannerisms that you recognize with your children, or the way they laugh at things that you also find funny.  

It is important to recognize that your words have significant impact on your child's self-esteem and self-worth. Of course this works both positively and negatively; unfortunately it takes a lot of positives to counteract the one negative.

Praise ten times for every one negative interaction or comment.

Positively state expectations and praise to the opposite of concerning behaviors.  

Praising ten times for every one negative interaction is certainly a lofty goal and for some, one labeled praise for every one negative interaction is a step in the right direction. Parents with children who have a lot of behavior problems are typically communicating one positive interaction for every ten negative interactions.

Here are some steps to work on the number of negative interactions you are having:

  1. Start to take the words: no, don't, stop, quit or not out of your vocabulary.
  2. Begin telling your child what you want them to do rather than what you don't want them to do.  An easy example is: instead of saying, "Don't run down the hall," you would say "Please walk down the hall."  When they begin to walk or slow down you begin to praise, "Thank you for walking down the hall."  Oftentimes praising the child will get them to slow down in the future because they are being recognized for positive behavior that makes them feel good. Of course if your child is the one that runs faster when you ask them to walk, then more in depth interventions would be necessary.
  3. Praising to the opposite of negative behaviors can be more tricky, but highly effective when used. In the example of running in the hallway, if you ignore the times they run and praise every time they walk making a big deal and celebrating their walking, then behavioral psychology tells us that you will get an increase in walking. What a great way to get your child to start walking through positive reinforcement without having to yell "STOP!"

Be aware of the underlying message of behaviors.

When a child is acting out behavior they are usually communicating something that they are not saying.   

This is especially important to recognize in children displaying anger symptoms. Anger in children is almost always directly related to pain/depression underneath. I like to use the analogy of an iceberg. 80 percent of an iceberg is under the water and 20 percent is on top. In relating this to anger the 20 percent we see on top are typically displayed through yelling, cussing, disrespectful behavior, property destruction, and even physical aggression. The 80 percent below makes up the bulk of the anger which is the underlying feelings that others don't see such as pain, depression and anxiety. By looking at the source of the underlying pain and getting the child to begin to externalize that in a safe environment, we begin to see the best outcomes for anger in children.

When dealing with your child's anger in the home, it is important to recognize the following:  

  1. Nothing gets resolved in escalation.

When you, your child or both of you are escalated it is important to separate until the issue can be discussed calmly. If you engage your child when they are escalated and out of control, you are basically reinforcing them with your attention for being escalated and out of control.

  1. Take time to make sure you and your child are calm before addressing concerns.  

Instead, wait until your child is calm and then engage them in the conversation while reinforcing them for their ability to calm down and remain calm. It is also amazing how conversations are much more productive when everyone is calm. I'm not saying that each issue needs to be discussed when your child is upset. If you told your child "no" and they are upset, it would best not to engage them and work on calming. If they are refusing to calm or having extended tantrums, more in depth interventions would be necessary.

As a parent I know it can be difficult to remain calm in all situations and to not feel anger towards our children at times. During times of anger or frustration, it is paramount that we remain calm and become a role model to show our children that even when we are angry, we take steps to calm down before discussions.

During times when an intense intervention is necessary, such as:

When a child is out of control in public or

Even more serious when they are in danger,

it is important to recognize that: "Intensity loses its impact when used too often."   


If I am always yelling or very intense in my interventions, they lose their impact when I really need them. If you are constantly yelling "NO" and "STOP" all day and you come across that one time when you really need it, perhaps the child running in the parking lot, it may not have the same level of impact as you would want it to have.

In cases where the child has experienced trauma, everything will be more difficult.  

Reassure, spend extra time with them and on normal routines.

Talk calmly and help to express underlying feelings.     

If your child has experienced trauma, it is important to recognize the impact this can have on behaviors. Much deeper parenting and therapeutic work may be necessary to address concerns related to trauma. Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Parent Child Interaction Therapy have good outcomes in working with children who have experienced trauma.

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How you respond to situations whether they are happy, mad or sad will likely be how your child responds to these emotions. As a parent you can make…

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