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Teaching Your Child Emotional Responsibility

As human beings, we make choices on a regular basis. From the second we wake up in the morning ‘til the moment our heads hit the pillow at night, the unfolding of our day directly reflects the choices we make.

Pantsuit or shorts? Interstate or backroad? Gym or couch? Red wine or white wine? Vegetables or pizza? All of these decisions – regardless of how inconsequential they may seem – create the blueprint of our lives. Our choices reflect the people we become and, as such, we must teach our children the inherent value in decision-making.

This includes emotions and reactions.

While we may not have full control over our circumstances, what we DO have is control over our reactions to those circumstances. And that’s a powerful differentiator. It gives each one of us a sense of autonomy and ownership – an important concept to instill in our children.

I bring this up because my toddler and I were recently in a situation in which the power of choice surfaced. I had picked him up from daycare and was driving him home. For some (seemingly inexplicable) reason, he started having a tantrum of epic proportions.

First, I tried asking him what was bothering him, to which he couldn’t or wouldn’t communicate. Then I tried scolding him for acting out which didn’t alleviate the situation anymore. Finally, I completely ignored his hissy-fit by turning up the music, tuning him out, and rocking out as I drove.

Upon seeing my embellished happiness, my toddler’s frustration turned into curiosity. He couldn’t understand why my response to his tantrum was rivaled with cheerfulness and ignorant bliss. I used this moment as an opportunity to explain the value in owning emotions.

In short, I explained to him that being happy or angry was a choice. My choice was to be positive whereas his choice was to be negative, and that’s a lesson I think we fail at teaching our youth.

When our kids are upset, we instinctively respond in two ways: we either reprimand them for their behavior, or we try to fix it – both of which may work the majority of the time but not always. What if our child is agitated for some unbeknownst reason? This is an opportune moment to teach our kids ownership over their emotions. This is when you can explain to them that they can choose to be sad or happy and that the latter is a far more simple and preferred approach to life’s obstacles.

This approach won’t resolve or alleviate every tantrum, but it WILL instill the value of ownership and control. It will teach them that life’s worth is predominately reflected in how we respond to it, not in the events that occur. And finally, it teaches them that adverse reactions to situations are ok. However, the power to change that emotion rests solely on our own shoulders – nobody else’s.

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About Mcclain W.


  1. Best parenting advice I’ve ever heard! That said, brain chemistry does strongly influence emotion/behavior and cannot always be controlled ( i.e. Is not always a choice) in cases of mental illness, especially depression. It is important for children to take ownership but not to blame themselves when they can’t shake off negativity. As parents we have to discern those times when genuine empathy is the best we can offer.

    • Thank you for that response! Deeper thinking is necessary when a person is afflicted with demons they cannot control by themselves.

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