The Very Best Way to Bond with a Child (A Grandparent’s Story)

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I idolize someone who can approach the sensitive topic of caring for children with an egoless, open mind. I’m especially impressed when these are grandparents, because they’ve raised their own children already and yet are open to learning as much as they can, and maybe even doing things differently with their grandchildren. I can only hope to be one of them someday.
That said, I jumped at the chance to share Gaynor’s story, which she related as a comment on one of my most read posts: The Key to Your Child’s Heart. The post is about the powerful and sometimes miraculous effects of simply acknowledging our children’s feelings. Gaynor shared:

“I have an amazing example of how well acknowledging works. My daughter was out of town for four days, and my hubby and I kept her daughter, Via. My daughter’s flight home arrived late Sunday night, so she and her husband spent the night with us. Via had been happy the whole time at our home, so Monday when Via became unusually emotional, I was puzzled.

Her mom was busy packing up things to go home, so I sat down on our couch, eye level with my 22-month-old granddaughter and gently said, “Via, I see you’re upset. You may not have all the words yet to tell me why, but I can see that something is bothering you. Maybe you’re sad that you’re leaving our house, or confused about Mommy leaving and coming back home.”

She immediately melted into me and hugged me tightly, as if she understood every single word I said. And as I read your article, I realized she probably understood the main aspect: I acknowledged her feelings.

And that was that. She got into her mom’s car and took off without a fuss.

It was such a huge moment for me to see how truly effective acknowledging a young one’s feelings can be. They just need to know we’re TRYING to understand them as they attempt to communicate fears, desires, independence, etc.”

As Gaynor discovered, acknowledging “works” when…

We are genuinely curious and interested in a child’s perspective and experience.

Our intention is purely to understand and connect.

We are calm rather than fearful or impatient.

We aren’t attempting to say the right words in order to calm or fix the feelings.

We ask or suggest what children might be feeling, rather than labeling their feelings for them.

Acknowledging is the very best way to bond with children because it proves:

We don’t judge
We accept them wholly as is
We are their safe place
They don’t ever need to feel alone in their thoughts and feelings

Thank you again, Gaynor, for sharing your beautiful story and photos!


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Great reminder! I’ve always tried to acknowledge my daughter’s feelings (she’s now 3) and it’s been a great help in navigating her ever-changing moods. But when she’s in full meltdown mode and incredibly angry, she will try to control every aspect of my reaction, like screaming at me to hold her, or to hold her standing up if I’m kneeling next to her, or to get her some water. I try to acknowledge calmly without letting her control my reactions but sometimes I wonder if I’m responding to her in the best way possible. Any tips, Janet?

    1. I would say less and trust more. When she makes those requests while in the middle of tantrum… just nod your head and allow her to vent. Trust this process. It can be challenging, because children will impulsively demand the things that stab us in the heart. The most loving thing you can do is perceive this as all part of her tantrum/expression and keep holding that space for her to release the feelings. You can do this!

  2. This is how I win over my grandchildren.
    I am attuned with them, like this grandmother. Accepting and acknowledging them makes a bond fast.

  3. I appreciate so much your advice about the power of acknowledgement. I remember you mentioning in a post that it’s not even necessary to always empathize but just to acknowledge. That was so helpful to me! I had been thinking acknowledging and empathizing went together, and sometimes I can sincerely empathize. For those times though when I really can’t relate or truly understand what my son is feeling, acknowledgement by itself seems all that’s needed! Thanks!

  4. And absolutely fabulous story. The very last paragraph is the most important

  5. Catherine says:

    Hi Janet – my almost 22 month old fell and hit her head while running the other day. She started to scream and cry and reached out to me, so I picked her right up. I acknowledged that she fell and hit her head and that it must hurt and be upseting to fall. The screaming and crying subsided, but she still seemed quite upset. She started pointing “go, go” and pointed towards the kitchen. I said I would stay with her in this room until she felt better, and then we would go into the kitchen. The tears started again, but then stopped. It looked like she really wanted to cry, but couldnt or wouldn’t, for whatever reason. I waited a moment, then told her that she could cry and let out the tears as much as she needed to. Again, the tears started, and then suddenly stopped, as if she was trying not to cry.

    I decided to walk into the kitchen with her, and see what would happen. The tears stopped as she saw a different room. She sat on my lap while I put ice on her forehead for a few minutes, and seemed content and happy.

    She doesnt cry or get upset that much, but, when she does, I’ve noticed this happen before – its like she wants to cry, but cant/wont. I think I’m handling it the right way but I get the feeling she’s having a hard time handling being so upset. I’m wondering what I can do differerently/ more of. Any suggestions?

  6. Beautiful article! This is why I am my grandchildren’s very best grandmother!

  7. This works! My 2, almost 3 year old daughter had her first screaming, flailing on the floor tantrum tonight. I sat next to her and patted her back, but she didn’t want anything to do with me. I let her scream for a few minutes, then I got on my knees next to her and said “You’re mad that I took the toys out of the bathtub.” She stopped screaming immediately and looked up at me. Then I said “And you’re mad I put water in your hair.” And she looked at me. And I said “And you’re mad I let the water out of the tub and took you out. And maybe you’re sad and a little frustrated with me.” Then I held out my arms and she came to me and hugged me. I carried her into her room and we sat in the rocker and cuddled for a while. After a few minutes she said “I was angry that you took my toys.” I told her I understood, then she let me put on her jammies and comb her hair. It was like a magic trick. I can only keep my fingers crossed that it wasn’t a fluke! I’m so grateful I found this site.

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