To “feel felt,” children need parents to tune in to their primary emotions. In any given situation, these are the emotions children feel first, such as happy, sad, mad, or scared.

When parents connect with a child’s primary emotional experience, a special kind of joining together is possible. The joining that takes place in these moments is important because “feeling felt” lasts beyond the moment and is experienced by your child in the memories, thoughts, sensations, and images of the relationship he or she has with you. Your child senses that he or she exists within your mind, and importantly, when children feel felt by a responsive, empathic parent or caregiver, they feel good about themselves because their emotions have been recognized, reflected, and understood.

To relate to a child at this emotional level, a parent needs to be mindfully aware of his or her own internal state of mind in addition to being fully open to understanding and respecting the child’s point of view. If parents are unaware of their own emotional reactions or emotions spilling into the present from their unresolved issues of the past, the opportunity for attunement with a child will be impaired.

Awareness offers parents the opportunity to choose their reaction. Specifically, self-reflection and gaining an understanding of personal internal processes will open the possibility for choosing from a wide range of responses when reacting to a child’s behavior.

All relationships are built on attuned, collaborative communication. The parent-child relationship is particularly important because joining together with your child by empathizing with his or her primary emotions supports the development of a stronger sense of self, nourishes the capacity for the child’s self-understanding, and creates a foundation for feelings of compassion.