Parenting Tip: How to Build Emotional Resilience in a Child

By Greg Baer M.D.

November 7, 2023

A mother texted me:

"My younger son, Thad, is ten years old. I’ve taught him from the Parenting Training, and you would not believe how different our home is. So much less whining, teasing, anger, all of it. Way less. 

"But Thad is sneaky. He’ll say the principles out loud—he understands them—but still sometimes he teases his older brother to tears.

"He makes little snotty comments that are hurtful. I don’t know what my next step is."

How to Build Emotional Resilience 

Me:  You were an unloving mother for Thad for almost ten years. You’ve changed a LOT in the past several months, but his wounds haven’t quite healed. No blaming, just helping you realize that there’s more healing to do. No surprise there. Deep wounds don’t heal quickly—for most people, not at all.  

Mom:  What more can I do?  

Me:  What do you do to proactively love him? How do you show him you love him without him doing anything to earn it or even ask for it? 

Mom: Every day, two or three times a day, I stop what I’m doing and go to find him. I sit with him and talk about what he’s doing. I touch him. I look into his eyes.  

Me:  Nice work, kid. Really nice. Do you tuck him into bed at night?  

Mom:  I didn’t use to, but then I realized that when he lies down in his bed, he’s quieter and more vulnerable. So now I lie down with him, hug him, look in the face, sometimes kiss his nose. He giggles when I do that. His whole body relaxes. Best choice I’ve made in a long time.  

How to Teach Emotional Resilience

Me:  So, he understands the principles. Mostly he lives by them, but on occasion he needs more. He understands what NOT to do, but that’s not enough to create joy. But feeling loved IS enough, and you’re giving him love. Is there more you can do? Sure. REMIND him of the joy, and CONTRAST it with whatever he’s doing in the moment that’s not loving.  

Mom:  Help me understand that more.  

Me:  In the movie Jerry Maguire, a sports agent is on the phone trying to convince his athlete-client to stay with him, even though the agent hasn’t yet gotten the athlete a great contract. The agent talks about how hard he works and how much he’s done for the client. Finally, the athlete shouts into the phone, “Show me the money." Sometimes kids need to see the “money,” the REWARD for behaving well.   

Mom:  Can you help me see what I can do that’s practical?   

Me:  The next time Thad teases his brother, don’t tell him to stop. Don’t ask him what he’s doing. Instead, do this: touch his shoulder and look into his eyes. You can’t have the slightest impatience or disapproval on your face or in your body. Ask him, “Can you remember how you feel when I tuck you in at night? When I hug you? When I kiss your face and tell you I love you? Remember that feeling?” If you do that, what do you think he’ll do?  

Mom texted:  Oh, that just melts my heart to hear you say that. I’m pretty sure of what he’ll do. I can like see it in my mind. He’ll soften. His muscles will relax, just like when I hold him. I think he’ll feel it, especially if I’m touching him when I say that.  

Me:  So then you keep talking. You say, “How does it feel when I hold you?” Don’t wait for an answer, because then he’ll have to think, and he’ll lose the feeling. You just answer for him: “It feels pretty great. Now a question: You just teased your brother. I’m not disappointed. I know you kind of get a kick out of teasing him, but does teasing feel as good as when I love you?” He might take a while to answer. You might have to repeat the question, but eventually he’ll recognize that feeling loved is better.  

Mom:  Yes, I think he will.  

Me:  Then you tell him that when he teases his brother, he can’t feel your love. Love disappears when he’s being unkind, and tell him that you can sense that he doesn’t feel loved when he teases. Suggest to him that he try to remember your love. Tell him to carry it with him all day, and every time he feels frustrated, he can remember. As you’re saying all this, you might put your hand in the middle of his chest and say, “Remember this feeling. You can put your own hand here and remember my hand being here.”  

Mom: I love it.  

To all parents:  

We can’t focus only on telling kids to stop unacceptable behavior. We can’t just get them to follow rules. We have to “show them the money.” They need to feel the rewards of love—both receiving and giving. They need to see the CONTRAST between the feeling of love and the feelings of anger and fear and controlling. 

Then children have a reward to move TOWARD, which is more motivating in the long term than simply AVOIDING behaviors that are wrong.  

Want to learn more?

Eliminate confusion and conflict with your children.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

Subscribe to our newsletter now!