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Getting a Grip – Parent or Child Centered Emotion Regulation

A key parenting challenge and one often referred to those who work with children is “What do I do when she loses it?” Parenting goals dictate the strategies parents adopt to socialize their children, reflecting their values and expectations and can be categorized as child or parent centered. Child centered approaches emphasize the child’s perspective and developmental needs while parent-centered strategies prioritize the parent’s requirements and convenience. A parent’s beliefs about their child’s emotion regulation and their appropriate response, relate directly to how they respond to their child’s distress.

What Does that Look Like?

Parent-centered emotion socialization beliefs suggest that children should manage their own emotions without parental support. The instruction ’Go to your room until you can manage yourself’ would appear to be more convenient for the parent as it removes the child and their distress and allows the parent to continue uninterrupted. By contrast, a child-centered approach of supportive, emotion-coaching parental socialization requiring patience, empathy, and assistance has a longer-term developmental goal. While mothers’ emotion-coaching socialization relates to more positive social and emotional outcomes in early and middle childhood other research is unclear, showing that while mothers’ unsupportive responses to negative emotions correlated with more behaviour problems in five-year-olds, this reversed by seven.

Is a Parent-Centered Approach Better for Parents?

A parent-centered approach appears more convenient for parents, but is this true? Researchers Nelson et al (2023) explored the relationship between both mothers’ and fathers’ parent-centered autonomy beliefs about children’s emotions and the parenting stress they experienced. Child behaviour problems and parent education were taken into account in making this assessment.
They also enquired as to whether these associations varied depending on the age of the child. 142 mothers and 62 paired fathers of 5–8-year-olds completed measures about their parenting and children’s behaviour. Contrary to parents’ intentions, those who supported more parent-centered beliefs reported greater parenting stress. Mothers whose partners endorsed this view also reported greater parenting stress. These results were independent of the child’s age.

The Recursion Between Beliefs and Behaviour

The authors propose a recursive loop between the parents’ developmentally inappropriate expectation of their child’s capacity to manage negative emotions, an increase in the child’s negative affect and poor self-regulation resulting in challenging behaviour and increased parenting stress.

What are the Implications for Practice?

These results support parenting approaches which utilize child-centered emotion coaching including ‘noticing children’s emotions, accepting and validating feelings, empathizing, and helping children reflect upon and work through feelings and problem solving.’ This may be done in parenting programmes or in individual family sessions where a practitioner models these skills with both adults and children and supports parents to practice them in the safety of the therapy relationship.


Nelson, J. A., Aguas, A. B., & Katz, J. M. (2023). “Work through it on your own”: parent-centered emotion socialization beliefs and parenting stress. Family Process, 00, 1–10.

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