Got Kids? 6 Ways to Make Them Emotionally Resilient

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Noticing and responding to your child’s feelings is the deepest, most personal way that you can say, “I love you.”

As parents we want, more than anything, to do right by our children. We know that the way we treat our children matters.

But parenting is probably the most complex role any of us will ever have in our lives, and few of us enter parenthood fully equipped to meet all our children’s needs.

Especially when it comes to their emotional ones.

In truth, the way a child is treated emotionally by his parents determines how he’ll treat himself as an adult. For example, a child who does not receive enough realistic, heartfelt acknowledgment from his parents for his accomplishments may grow up with low self-esteem and little confidence in his own abilities.

You probably love your child “all the way to the moon and back,” as the classic children’s book says. But love simply isn’t enough. Because if you don’t attend enough to your child’s emotions, your child will feel ignored on some level, no matter how much attention you pay to him in other ways.

Emotions are literally a part of your child’s physiology. They are the most deeply personal, biological part of who he is. So noticing and responding to your child’s feelings is the deepest, most personal way for you to say, “I love you.”

Why It’s Hard

As a parent, it is not easy to know when and how to respond emotionally to your child. And it’s one hundred times harder when you grew up in a household that under-responded to your emotions (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN).

As a psychologist who has worked with thousands of parents, I have seen firsthand that the best time to learn emotion skills is during your childhood. When your parents don’t have these skills, they can’t teach them to you. Then what do you do when it’s your turn to teach your kids?

Add to that challenge the fact that emotion hides behind behavior. It’s easier to get angry with a child who is sulking than to look for the underlying emotion that’s causing the behavior.

6 Ways to Raise an Emotionally Resilient Child

  1. Pay attention to who your child really is. Observe your child’s true nature–and reflect it back to her. What does your child like, dislike, get angry about, feel afraid of, or struggle with? Feed these observations back to your child in a nonjudgmental way so that your child can see herself through your eyes, and so that she can feel how well you know her.
  2. Feel an emotional connection to your child. Strive to feel what your child is feeling, whether you agree with it or not. Put the feelings into words for him and teach him how to use his own words to express them.
  3. Respond competently to your child’s emotional needs. Don’t judge your child’s feelings as right or wrong. Look beyond the feeling, to the source that’s triggering it. Help your child name and manage her emotion. Give her simple, age-appropriate rules to live by.
  4. Teach self-forgiveness by modeling compassion. When your child makes a poor choice or mistake, help him understand what part of the mistake is his, what part is someone else’s, and what part is the circumstance. That helps him figure out how to correct his mistake without feeling blame from you or automatically blaming himself.
  5. Show your child that you like as well as love her. It’s vital that your child not only knows but feels that you like and love her. Warm, caring hugs, laughter, and truly enjoying your child’s personality all go a long way toward conveying that feeling to your child. Knowing that she’s loved is not the same as feeling loved.
  6. Don’t miss small opportunities to give attention. Childhood is composed of many small emotional moments, and the more of these that you share, the better off your child will be when he or she grows up.

Wondering if you received enough emotional attention and true empathy as a child to give your children what they need? Since CEN is subtle and invisible, it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens and how to recover from it, see my books Running Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships and Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect .


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Erika - October 24, 2021 Reply

Dr Webb,
I have both your books and get your blogs. Thank you. Thank you for putting this so obvious, yet mostly ignored issue out there in such a concise and digestible way. Like a previous commentor said, I often see your email with your blog subject line and say to myself “how did she know?”. I can’t articulate how thankful I am for your information. I have been able to wake from a fog of confusion and see the reality of my situation. The most difficult parts of this journey to honoring myself have been a) knowing and accepting that not only have my parents failed me emotionally, but they are stuck in a place where they can’t not fail me. Knowing that helps and also hurts in equal and alternating measure. And b) society is afraid of a broken parent/child relationship. It is easier to think that the parent always does “the best they can” and everything else is forgiven. That is a toxic message. It puts the owness on the child and not the caregiver. I came across your work because I was perpetuating that pattern with my own young child and I just felt something was wrong. I was doing what I knew from my family. But the conflict felt unnatural. Time outs and bribes to get along were continually severing our emotional connection. And remembering the feeling of not being comfortable enough to ask my mother for attention from a very young age drove me to search out what was wrong. I acknowledge I did damage for her first years but I now know myself for really the first time in my life. To know I am worthy of boundaries. She and I have a chance to be the last in the generational cycle, together. I started working on me for her, but now I know that I am worth the work just for me, too. The message that the child is the cause of the conflict is wrong. As with me and my daughter, I needed to change if we had conflict. The first reaction from any parent over 50 and most younger people (shed what dosen’t serve your healing!), is shame on me for not “honoring thy mother and father”. I used to react to this each time, but I now see that it is a judgment that reflects their fear. And the base of that fear is that they will be in the position of my parents: on the outside of a boundary they can’t control. I am worthy of healthy relating. Thank you, Dr Webb for helping me on my journey (that is NOT over!) and please keep up the great work! You have reached more people than you likely know. Thank you.

    Jonice - November 2, 2021 Reply

    Dear Erika, thank you for sharing your story and the things you have realized and learned. Your journey is valuable and well-earned.

Stephen - October 18, 2021 Reply

I “knew” I was loved but didn’t know what that meant or felt like. I assumed it was more of an obligation to my parents. I told them the bare minimum about my life and now when I talk about my childhood to them they dont remember much. I remember having a couple break downs but nothing was ever addressed and I cried a few times when I was a kid but other than that I tried to never show any emotion so no one could manipulate me. I hid my interests and friends and they barely ever knew what I was doing at school. But I was top of my class and teachers pet. Never got in trouble or misbehaved. The worst thing I did as a kid was not do enough chores, have too much homework that i didnt get done fast enough, and I started to date and hang out with friends when I was 18. My parents could only threaten to punish me by taking away my books and homework. I would get berated for not understanding how to help my dad do 5 years of back taxes with barely any explanation from him when I was 14. I realized young that my parents had very emotionally strong reactions to things and I had to walk on eggshells around them and know what was ok to talk about, and that was usually not personal things. I would meditate on not feeling anything and having a flat affect and blank stare and tell myself I could be a person when I grow up and move out. Now though I just feel empty most of the time and the things I wanted to do as a kid seem pointless and hollow. I definitely feel I missed some crucial developmental stages. I’m always a bit confused and feel behind in social situations. Definitely felt like a reverse parenting situation where I was trying to get them to do chores and make food and stay on top of mail and help them with financial decisions and work through their past trauma.

Betty - October 18, 2021 Reply

Awareness of the emotions, delicate sensitivities that we have as children, and CEN women, and men, still have. Thanks for saying we can yet realize emotional resilience and Self love, and saying how.

    Jonice - October 19, 2021 Reply

    You’re welcome Betty. I’m happy you took it all in so well. Take care!

Babs - October 18, 2021 Reply

These 6 steps are extremely important for today’s parent. Thank you Dr. Webb.

As someone who experiences CEN it was easy to fall into the trap of reconfiguring my personality outside of the home to get the connection I so desperately needed. Essentially, this desperate need for a connection left me trying to be everything to everybody but empty inside. I carried this dysfunction well into adulthood.

Today’s parent has the opportunity to give their kids a thriving and stable emotional connection. Today’s parent also gets to know with clarity why it is so important. Again, thank you for the work you do Dr. Webb.

    Jonice - October 19, 2021 Reply

    I’m so glad to be helpful, Babs! Yes, we have many opportunities and much knowledge that our parents didn’t.

ACowls - March 28, 2017 Reply

Powerful article. I’m researching Emotional Intelligence at the moment – does this go by trait or ability model? Many thanks

Mims - March 22, 2017 Reply

This article really struck me – particular points #1 and #3. Throughout my childhood and into the present:

Point #1: I have never felt accepted for who I really am. Different members of my family have always tried to change me or tell me I should be a particular way. This has led to a deep sense of self-hatred.

Point #3: My feelings or reactions towards things were always “wrong”, “overreactive”, “overemotional”, “crazy”. As a result, I neglect my needs and assume that I’m always wrong to feel or think a certain way.

I have gotten better, but the damage is still there. I hope I can one day overcome it. If I ever have children, I will strive not to make the same mistakes my family did with me.

Tyler - March 19, 2017 Reply

As much as I wanted children of my own most of my life I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way. I believe that I would have passed it on no matter much I tried to fight it.

Jen - March 19, 2017 Reply

When this article showed up in my inbox this morning I smiled to myself at how yet another one of your articles was so perfectly times for me. Making sure I pass down the opposite of CEN to my children has been my deepest desire from my own childhood. I am working hard and learning about my own needs and how to nurture myself from what I missed as a kid and I am sharing with my children along the way. This article clarifies further for me that I’m in the right track and makes it clearer for me to continue how to help my kids and end this generations long CEN cycle. Thank you!

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