Listening to Our Kids’ Emotions to Guide Us

As parents during this crazy time of the coronavirus, I think it is more important than ever to consider that your child may be experiencing all sorts of emotions that may not be at all related to what is actually going on. 

All of our children, being far more sensitive than we often give them credit for, are likely picking up on the collective anxiety of uncertainty and fear that so many of us are experiencing. Take a moment during this time to still yourself and ask your children the deeper questions when emotions come up. What is this really about? What are you experiencing in your body? What are you scared/mad/sad about? What is going on in your heart?

It is now week two of the coronavirus pandemic in Denver. The restaurants and cafes have all been shutdown. Two kids, ages 3 and 6 years old, end up spending three days at my house. Their mom and dad are both in the military, stationed overseas, and can’t be with them due to the virus. 

The 3-year-old decides he is going to refuse to wash his hands properly. 

And by refuse, I mean this fiery red-headed toddler goes into a full blown, fists balled up, red-faced, arched back, kicking the cabinets to the point of drawing blood, howling scream fest the likes of which I have never seen, not even in my own kid. 

The thing is, I know I cannot back down. For one, I adhere to the “Parenting with Love and Logic” theory which says: Do everything you can to avoid getting into power plays with your kids; however, if you do, you must see it through to the end and not back down. Two, there was absolutely no way I was going to allow this child to not wash his hands with a deadly virus going around. It was not just about me –  it was about all of us. 

I tried all the techniques I knew from Love and Logic – I gave him a choice about how he could wash his hands: “Do you want to count to twenty or sing ABCs?” and “Do you want me to wash them with you or do you want to wash them yourself?”

Nothing was working. 

He was sobbing something unintelligible and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then, for some reason, Willow Bradner’s advice came to mind from her interview on the soul path parenting podcast – when kids are having a temper-tantrum, it is an opportunity for them to listen to their emotions. When it comes to kids, she says that “something that we need to start doing is allowing them to have their emotions. Their emotions are actually their compass. It’s their barometer for the energy that they’re in taking everyday.”


I bent down and asked him what was going on? Are you mad? Are you sad? 

“I miss my mommy and daddy!” he finally blurted out. 

Then I got it. He was trying to share with me the song his mom sang to him when he washed his hands, “tops and bottoms in between.” 

“Oh my goodness, you are sad because you miss your mommy and daddy!” I said. “I am so sorry! I didn’t know that is what you were sad about. Where do you feel sad? Is it in your heart?” I proceeded to embrace him in a big, enveloping hug and let him cry it all out and be sad. 

Within seconds, calmness returned. We washed his hands together singing “tops and bottoms in between.” He dried his hands and dried his tears. A few minutes later we were Face-timing with his mom and dad who are still stationed overseas and he was happy. 

I realized had I not seen the moment as a precious sign to connect with emotion, I would have missed it. The hand-washing episode would have lasted much longer and my guess is that the 3-year-old would have been “off” the rest of the afternoon. Not having identified what was really bothering him, he would have continued to have outbursts and I would have continued to be baffled as to why.

Being present to your child in this way at this time is perhaps the greatest gift we can give them, the most profound way we can serve them, and the most effective way to do what we need them to do, in this case, wash their hands!


Shannon is a therapist, former school teacher, and mom. She is the co-author of the book "Sweet Spot: Leveraging Your Talents in Leadership and Life" Currently, Shannon writes about the areas that align with areas that she is passionate about...letting go of the energetic ties that keep us down, personal evolution, and true self-expression.

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