Parents, Stop Asking "What's Wrong?"

February 28, 2018



As parents, we have multiple opportunities every day to steer our kids towards empowerment and resilience. One simple thing you can add to your repertoire of parenting tricks is this:


Avoid asking “What’s wrong?” when you notice that your kids are upset.


Instead, teach them the basics of emotional intelligence and resilience by following this three-step process:


  1. Name the emotion they are feeling.

  2. Validate the emotion they are feeling.

  3. Help them identify what they need to feel better… that is in their control.


Here’s how that might go:


Step one: When you notice they are upset, name the emotion.


“You seem sad.” 

“You sound angry.” 

“I can see that you are scared.” 


This teaches them to identify their emotions.

Step two: When they start talking about their emotions and why they are upset, validate how they are feeling. 


Don’t try to fix the problem for them or make them feel better yet. Let them express their feelings and validate how they are feeling by saying things like: 

“That would make me mad too.” 

“That must feel awful.” 

“I can see why you are upset.” 


This models for them that negative emotions are not something to be ignored or ashamed of and helps them get clear about what the crux of the matter is—what is really upsetting them.


Then, when they are done venting, move on to step three.


Step three: Help them identify what they need to feel better… that is in their control.


“What can I do to help you feel better?”


“What can you do for yourself to feel better?”


Be aware that your children might first come up with solutions that are not acceptable to you and/or not in their control: “I don’t want to go to school anymore.” “Make Johnny stop being so stupid.” However, with a little patience and empathy you will be able to help them identify some concrete action steps they can take to feel better.


Whereas asking someone what is wrong keeps the negative emotion alive and keeps them stuck in the story of the problem, acknowledging the emotion and offering to help solve the problem invites them to look for solutions. This three-step process allows them to move through the negative emotions in a safe, supported way and then into a problem-solving mindset that will feel empowering.


It all starts with remembering NOT to say, “What’s wrong?” the next time one of your kids (or anyone for that matter) is upset.


What about you? I’d love to know some of the things YOU try not to say to your kids ...


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