Accept Your Children's Emotions when They Misbehave

Bad behavior is unacceptable, but you must still accept your children's emotions. Children must understand this from the time they're young.
Accept Your Children's Emotions when They Misbehave
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 03 May, 2023

Children can be quite intense when they’re young. It’s just in their nature. To adults who’ve forgotten what it means to be a child, many of these behaviors can seem totally irrational and out of place. Therefore, it’s important that, as a parent, you keep in mind that it’s your child’s behavior that needs to be corrected, not their emotions. In other words, you must accept your children’s emotions, even when they misbehave.

Children need to be allowed to feel their emotions, even when the adult isn’t able to understand what’s going on in their head. But what little ones need to be made to understand is that even if you respect and accept your children’s emotions, that doesn’t mean they can behave the way they want to.

As parents, we have an obligation to educate children when they break rules or hurt themselves or others. Unacceptable behavior can’t be tolerated. Therefore, children need to internalize the fact that feeling emotions of anger, sadness, or fear is acceptable, like any other emotion they may experience.

Whatever happens, their emotions are important

A mother hugging her child, who looks sad.
Emotions, even those considered negative, aren’t bad. What’s important is that the child learns to manage them in order to express them in the best possible way.

To correct children’s bad behavior, but not emotions, it’s important not to minimize them. For example, if you tell a child to stop crying, in the future, they’ll do everything possible to avoid feeling pain or to keep others from seeing that they’re sad. And, as you know, this isn’t healthy behavior.

If children think that being sad is a bad thing, they’re likely to try to put a fake smile on their face and not want to talk about themselves or what makes them feel bad. You should know that anger in itself isn’t bad because it lets us know what’s wrong with us. You just have to find a way to express it in a healthy way.

The behavior is preceded by the emotion

It’s important to separate the emotions your child feels from the behavior they display. For example, hitting is a behavior and anger is an emotion. So, instead of teaching your child not to feel, instruct them to understand the emotions they feel. That way, they’ll also be able to acquire and implement emotional management techniques.

Make them understand that sometimes feeling angry is normal, but misbehaving isn’t. Show them that there will be no consequences for their emotions, but there will be consequences for bad behavior. This way, they understand their emotions and respond appropriately according to the circumstances. If the child feels emotionally understood, they’ll also feel validated. In that way, their self-esteem and their confidence in you and in themselves will be reinforced.

Accept your children’s emotions, but teach them to correct behavior

A mother giving her daughter a comforting hug.
By understanding that emotions are okay and that they must find ways to manage them so that they’re socially appropriate, children’s behavior will improve considerably

To teach children to correct and redirect their behavior, the first step is for them to understand emotions, because only then will they be able to identify them. To do this, you can follow these steps:

  • Label emotions. Teach your child to name their feelings so they can identify them. You can say phrases such as “I noticed that you’re sad because that boy didn’t want to play with you.”
  • Teach appropriate coping skills. Teach your child to be able to cope with uncomfortable emotions in a positive way. For example, if they’re sad, they can paint mandalas or write how they feel. Or if they’re angry, they can go for a walk.
  • Let them see that they have control over themself. If the child is in a bad mood, let them see that there are certain behaviors that can cause them to get stuck in that place. However, show them that they have the control to choose other options that will make them feel better and cheer up, such as watching a comedy.
  • Apply positive discipline. When faced with inappropriate behavior, such as breaking their sibling’s toy just because they got angry, there should be a consequence. This will help the child understand that such behavior is wrong. However, it should be clear that they’ll have to reflect calmly on their behavior, but not on the emotion they’ve experienced.

Help your child to manage their emotions

In addition to everything mentioned in this article, it’s important to talk about emotions and teach children to manage them. This will be a great help for them to improve their behavior and fulfill their responsibilities. Emotions aren’t an excuse for not doing the things the child has to do, except in some tragic exceptions, such as the death of a family member, an emergency, or an illness.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • J. Siegel, D (2018) Disciplina sin lágrimas: Una guía imprescindible para orientar y alimentar el desarrollo mental de tu hijo. Editorial: Debooks
  • Cerón Berján MF, Contreras Maldonado M (2022) Estrategias de validación emocional y psicología positiva con niños, niñas y adolescentes.  Tesis de grado, Facultad de Psicología, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Disponible en:

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.