The Biggest Signs A Parent Isn't Equipped To Handle Their Child's Emotions, According To Experts

Children can have big feelings and sometimes parents aren't equipped to handle them.

little girl screaming while mom turns a blind eye to her emotional outburst studioroman via Canva | eclipse_images via Canva

Parenting is an intricate journey filled with challenges, triumphs, and a myriad of emotional moments shared between parent and child. While every parent strives to provide a nurturing and supportive environment for their children, not all are equipped with the tools and understanding needed to effectively navigate the intricate landscape of their child's emotions.

In a world where emotions can sometimes be both enigmatic and overwhelming, a parent's capacity to validate and communicate about their child's feelings becomes pivotal. When a parent grapples with the inability to genuinely acknowledge or effectively converse about their child's emotions, it can inadvertently sow seeds of emotional disconnection.


The absence of a safe space for emotional expression can limit a child's emotional growth, impede their ability to process complex feelings and contribute to a lack of emotional intelligence. It's within this context that recognizing the signs of a parent who might not be adept at handling their child's emotions becomes a significant endeavor.

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The manner in which a parent responds to their child's emotional outbursts can also provide vital insights into their emotional toolkit. The moments when parents react with frustration or anger in the face of their child's emotions can potentially indicate a struggle with emotional regulation. These reactions, though often unintentional, can leave lasting imprints on a child's psyche, shaping their understanding of their own feelings and their expectations of emotional interactions. 


Parents who unknowingly expect their children to conform to predefined emotional norms can inadvertently stifle the child's authenticity and capacity to process feelings organically. This cycle perpetuates a sense of inadequacy in the child, leading them to mask genuine emotions to meet perceived parental standards. 

Unfortunately not knowing how to handle a child's emotions or feelings can commonly evolve into emotional neglect and even abuse.

We asked a panel of YourTango Experts to share signs a parent may need some help with handling their child's emotions. 


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Here, YourTango experts reveal three big signs a parent isn't equipped to deal with their child's emotions:

1. The parent dismisses their child's emotions entirely.

They diminish the child's feelings. They dismiss or mock their child's fears.

Dr. Gloria Brame, sex therapist

2. The parent deals with their own emotions rather than their child's.

When a toddler, teen, or even adult child is deep in their own emotions, a healthy and whole parent has the presence of self to distinguish their emotions from their child's. They are able to hear and understand what their child is going through. This does not mean agreement with their reaction, nor taking a side in a situation; it means validating what the child is feeling and letting them know they are right there walking alongside the child.


There are red flags indicating when a parent is engaged with their own emotional experience rather than being present to their child. One red flag is when a parent begins to counter what the child is sharing, stating alternative possibilities or realities that the child might not yet be ready to see.

The parent may argue with the child's perspective, judging what the child feels, which can cause a child to doubt the validity of their emotions. The parent may begin to defend themselves, the child, another person, or the situation itself, offering explanations or excuses for what has taken place. Or the parent may simply discount what their child is sharing as "not a big thing," or, worse, let the child feel that what they are feeling is wrong or inappropriate. Behaviors and facts may be incorrect or inappropriate, but feelings are valid. Period.

Although most likely well-intended, any of those parental reactions come from a place of discomfort in the parent or an inability to identify, express or deal with their own emotions.

RELATED: How To Be The Emotionally Present Parent You Wish You'd Had As A Kid


For example, if your child tells you that they are being bullied on social media and that they feel scared, you yourself may feel angry. Your response may be one of anger or outrage, wanting to take action and protect your child. However, if you are not clear that your anger is your response to the situation, you may not be able to really hear that your child is scared. If you do not hear that your child is scared, and support them through that emotion, they may not only remain scared but in addition now also feel alone because Mom/Dad is occupied with their own anger.

There are impactful actions we can take to stay clear, stay in our own emotions, and stay out of the tangle of what our child is going through. One is to reflect back to the child what you are hearing, seeking to understand the experience from your child's point of view.

This simple reflecting back both gives you the chance to get straight what the child is actually experiencing, as well as deeply assures the child that they are understood and not alone in their experience. Bearing witness like this allows the parent to gain a sovereign perspective and be best able to support their child through whatever emotions they are going through.

If you find yourself arguing, judging, or discounting your child's experience, take time out for yourself to figure it out. Most likely their emotions have triggered something in your own emotional world. Talk to a friend, seek a professional perspective from a therapist or coach, journal, or meditate on your experience until you gain clarity of thought and emotion.


Despite our most heartfelt and energetic efforts, we are not always 100% on-point parents. That is okay, as long as we recognize those times, those areas, where we get off track. Hold yourself lovingly accountable in those (never-ending) areas in which your own responses are your greatest teacher. Doing so is an essential practice for the emotional health and well-being of you, your child, and your relationship.

— Leeza Carlone Steindorf, relationship coach

3. The parent is overprotective and shelters their child from the world.

They have an adversarial (v. protective) relationship with their child. They lack empathy for their child's struggles.

— Dr. Gloria Brame, sex therapist


Recognizing the signs that a parent might be struggling to navigate their child's emotions is not about casting blame, but rather about fostering awareness and promoting growth.

Parenthood is a continuous journey of learning and adaptation, and understanding these indicators can be a pivotal step toward enhancing the emotional well-being of both parent and child.

By cultivating open communication, developing emotional regulation skills, and addressing personal emotional baggage, parents can create an environment where children feel validated, understood, and empowered to navigate the complexities of their feelings.

Ultimately, the journey to becoming emotionally attuned parents benefits not only the parent-child relationship but also lays the foundation for the child's lifelong emotional resilience and well-being.


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Deauna Roane is an associate editor for YourTango who covers pop culture, lifestyle, astrology, and relationship topics. She's had bylines in Emerson College's literary magazine, Generic, and MSN.