How to Respond when your Child or Partner is Upset

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baby crying - shaken baby syndrome prevention

How should you respond?

Research shows the most critical interactions we have with our loved ones are when they’re upset. An adult’s reactions during these situations have the opportunity to build up or break down these bonds.

Forging deep bonds with a child is not only important for having a meaningful relationship, but also for helping children develop positive and healthy skills as they get older.

Next time your child or loved one is upset, consider one or more of these strategies, offered through The Happy Child App and the Human Improvement Project.


  • Notice and show you care – “You ok? You seem a little down. Anything you want to
    talk about?”
  • No minimizing the situation – “this isn’t a big deal”
  • No minimizing their emotions – “You are over-reacting, this isn’t worth getting upset about.”
  • No correcting their emotions – “You should be mad not sad!”
  • Validate their feelings – “I can see why you would feel frustrated by…I would be too!”
  • Help them unpack their feelings by inquiring about 3-5 emotions using emotion list
    – “Are you feeling frustrated because…?”, “It must be so overwhelming to see…, is it?”
  • No problem solving. If you have an idea, after the entire conversation is over you can
    say something like “I have an idea on how to fix XYZ, let me know later if you want to talk
    about it”. In other words, give them an easy out to NOT asking you for advice.
  • No siding with the enemy. Try to find at least some small way of being on their side.
    If you can’t, don’t comment and just listening quietly.
  • No cheering them up. That leaves the experience unprocessed which will continue to
    cause problems for them.
  • Don’t say or imply “Look at the bright side”/”Count your blessings”/”It’s going to be fine”
    It will probably be fine but that isn’t the point. The point is to help them process their
    hurtful experience.
  • Don’t say or imply “Others have it worse” – “This is nothing compared to ….”
  • Don’t criticize – “Why did you say …?”)
  • No switching the conversation over to another topic or to yourself. Keep the focus
    on their issues and feelings. It’s ok for the sharer to switch the subject.
  • Don’t get defensive. It isn’t about you. Let slights go. Just listen.
  • Don’t ask leading questions that imply a solution like “Why didn’t you just walk away
    at that point?”
  • Give them Oxytocin (e.g. hugs, pat on the back, fix a collar, squeeze their hand/shoulder)

Emotion List

baby crying - shaken baby syndrome prevention
baby crying - shaken baby syndrome prevention

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How to Respond when your Child or Partner is Upset