By Katie Whiting

Whether the kids are five or fifteen, using the ABC’s of parenting can help foster emotional intelligence in our children and help us respond to their emotional needs. This is one of the first techniques I teach and help parents to practice in working with their kids, no matter the reason they are coming in to see me.

A is for Acknowledgement: Here the parent’s role is to acknowledge either the emotion, the situation that has happened or both. Depending on the age of the child, parents ask the child to identify the emotion behind the situation or to describe what has happened. Children receive validation as they hear acknowledgement from parents about what they are experiencing behaviorally and more importantly, emotionally.

B is for Boundaries/rules: Often when parents or another adult steps in it is because something happened that was not okay, inappropriate or not acceptable. After validation, parents can establish or emphasize a family boundary or rule that the child needs to operate within. Children need to know what the limits are, otherwise they feel insecure about what is expected and their behavior reflects this confusion. Children thrive with healthy structure. It is the job of the adults in the child’s life to clearly communicate what is and is not okay in a non-shaming way.

C is for Choices: What options do children have to express their emotional needs within the bounds of the rules or boundaries of the family, the person, or social situation? If the child is older, parents can ask questions to have the child come up with a couple of different options. If the child is younger, parents can present the child with at least two options where they can express their emotions freely while respecting the boundary that has been set.

Example: Jonny (five year old) hit Mom after being told to pick up his toys.


Mom “Jonny, you just hit me, are you feeling angry?”

Jonny “Duh!”

Mom “What else are you feeling?”

Jonny “I want to play with my toys!”

Mom “Ah so you are feeling angry because you are not able to play with your toys right now.”


Mom “You can honor your anger. It is not okay to hit people. If you want to touch them, in this family, we ask permission before touching people.”

Jonny “But I want to punch something.”


Mom “If you want to punch something to express your anger you can punch a pillow or smash a banana in a Ziploc bag. Otherwise you can also express your anger by talking to me about what is going on. What do you want to do to express your anger?”

Jonny “Where is a pillow?”

This can be really quick and simple. If parents have or want to spend more time on the “A,” they can explore what that emotion is trying to tell the child and help them ask themselves, what is their emotional need? Doing this can help increase the child’s emotional intelligence and awareness. Going more in-depth with emotions can also create space to come up with creative “C” options. The role of emotions is often to bring attention to an unmet need, a boundary that has been crossed or an expectation that has not been met. As a child’s brain develops, parents can increase their child’s ability to communicate needs within effective boundaries, through utilizing the ABC’s of parenting.

For more parenting skills or to learn how to apply the ABC’s specifically to your family’s situation, give us a call to schedule an appointment with Katie Whiting. And look for a future post by Katie on an in-depth description of children’s emotional needs.