Relational Book for Parenting, Part 2: Labeling Our Emotions

We live in a culture that suppresses emotional expression in boys and girls alike. As such, helping ourselves and our children learn to identify the full range of emotions we are feeling is important work for all of us. But if we are too quick to encourage our children to pick labels for their emotions, we skip over the back and forth of conversation, of relating, which can add crucial nuance and depth to the stories we create about ourselves. It is in the process of talking with our children, that their stories shift and emerge, their emotional responses becoming more well considered. Without the relational process of self-reflecting in conversation, this doesn’t take place.

Additionally, our culture has many old and outmoded assumptions about the kinds of emotions or responses we should be experiencing based on our gender or other factors. For example, if we are men, we are expected to feel anger or competitive urges but never sadness. If we are women we are expected to present as emotional or less decisive, but anger is not acceptable. So how are our daughters to their process their anger, if our cultural cues forbid naming it as such?

There are many emotional stereotypes based on gender. Generic, simplistic emotional frames are never helpful and yet, our culture encourages us to apply them when identifying our children’s emotions. Without conversation, simplistic, limiting frames about emotions end up getting applied.

Instead, we can choose to slow down and talk about what our children are experiencing, prior to making the choice to label these often complex emotions. In conversation, what we and our kids are feeling shifts and evolves in more nuanced and empowering ways, moving away from simplistic and even stigmatizing labels. In relating, we make meaning. That meaning, for better or worse, becomes our stories about ourselves, our partners and our children.

The following is another of the comic strips from The Relational Book for Parenting.

Here is a quote from The Relational Book for Parenting:

“As parents, we can show our children that they don’t have to heighten their response, but instead see the beauty, the ‘wowness’ of being human. Later in their lives, they can learn to say ‘Wow, what was that? That was strange what I felt. I wonder what that was?’ They can learn how to hang in and be curious with their emotional responses. They can create new meanings and connections within the relational space. Our calmness becomes their calmness. Our exploration, theirs. Our patience, theirs.

In choosing to ask questions and stay curious, we help grow our children’s relational stamina — the amount of time they can attune themselves to exploring and relating their emotional expression. Even emotions like anger, which at first might appear to be challenging, can become less challenging and more familiar over time; eventually even shifting into new forms of healthy, empowering expression.

Instead of naming their feelings for them, we can intentionally make space for our children (or partners) to discover their own frames for what they are feeling, which can result in unexpected new insights. Perhaps, our children might choose to not name their feelings right away (another capacity building moment.) When a child is free to say, “I don’t know what I feel right now but I may know later,” they are essentially allowing time for what they feel to emerge. In this process, we keep them company while they find their way. We remain a steady presence.

We humans are complex. Sometimes what happens between us can’t be named or understood immediately. If we rush to label our emotions, we risk creating stories about ourselves and others that can take on a life of their own. Instead we can choose to be thoughtful about how we label what we and others might be feeling.

Children are perfectly capable of arriving at more layered views of human emotions when we make space for them to explore their relational capacities over time via ongoing conversations. In this process, our task is to keep them company and provide frames while they explore.”

Our book has much, much more! Support our work! Pick up a copy at


The Relational Book for Parenting, Part 1: Where Are Our Feelings Created?

The Relational Book for Parenting, Part 2: Labeling Our Emotions

The Relational Book for Parenting, Part 3: Witnessing Our Children’s Difficult Emotions

The Relational Book for Parenting, Part 4: We Live the Stories We Tell

The Relational Book for Parenting, Part 5: Tracking the Powerful Influence of Context

The Relational Book for Parenting, Part 6: Why Is Play The Answer for Businesses and Families Alike?

Please note: this article is not intended to be a replacement for professional care. If you think you need professional help, seek it out.

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Here’s a two minute video on the Relational Book for Parenting. If you’d like, you can pick up a copy of our book at




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Mark Greene

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Working toward a culture of healthy masculinity. Links to our books, podcasts, Youtube and more:

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