Helping Your Child Through Distress

“The more I learn about you, the more I care about you.”

What would it look like for you to pursue this kind of heart for the ones you love today?

When our children come to us for help after a significantly stressful event, we feel the depth of their circumstance because we understand the person who’s reaching out. We’ve spent time getting to know them, their world, their internal and external conflicts, their battles and victories, we’re committed to feeling *with* them, and can sometimes even imagine ourselves *as* them.

Some first steps to think about:

1. Invite them to speak:

When your children tell you about some significant event that happened, something scary or big or upsetting, instead of immediately solving or attaching value to anyone’s actions, you could say, “Tell me more, what was that like for you?”

2. Listen for their emotions:

Try to pick up a sense of what they’re feeling now as they tell you in addition to “then” as the event happened (e.g., surprised, lonely, sad, hurt, angry, enraged, fearful, nervous, irritated, resentful, etc.).

3. Reflect their feeling:

Verbally and non-verbally (body language, tone of non-word vocalizations like hmm, ohh, etc.) send the message their feeling was heard and you recognize the intensity of their emotion.

4. Reflect their content:

This is the “what” of their report, the words/details and data about the event, who was there, the *what* about everything they’ve shared. Ask clarifying questions if needed; open ended (who, what, where, when, why, how, etc.).

5. Breath and check in with yourself:

Internally, reflect on your own reactions/emotions. Notice what’s coming up for you as they talk. What urges or inclinations take shape? This is a pattern (try not to immediately judge “good” or “bad”) of interaction, of your relationship. If you and your child are satisfied with the way you typically respond to their bids for connection and support, then continue. If you or your child have expressed a need for a new kind of interaction, then your main question is, “What would a new, different response look like right now in this moment?” Perhaps instead of “rescuing” or becoming equally upset, you hold a sense of calm and help them walk through a gentle yet thoughtful problem solving process.


This is a great starting place to care for our children as we meet them in their world and support them in their distress. As you apply this to your relationships, over time you’ll discover a deeper sense of trust and intimacy within your relationship, and a growing sense of confidence in their ability to self-reflect and navigate the world around them.


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This website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional psychological care.

FEATURED PC: Anton Darius and Jukan Tateisi AT UNSPLASH

© 2019 Therapy Redeemed

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