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Do You Trust Your Child? Emotional Development in Middle Childhood

By Josette Luvmour, PhD


Maria learned early in life that feelings couldn’t be trusted. She was an affectionate mom when her children were little, but her parenting skills grew sparse as her children got older.  Early on in my childhood, I didn't know what my feelings were. I was raised in a household where there was no fairness and there was no right to my feelings. I was disconnected. I just knew feel good, feel bad, and don’t know…If I did express my feelings, my mom would say, "You don't feel that way. You should be ashamed.” She was very controlling. It led to dishonesty.

NurtureThe feeling emotion of trust requires relationship to develop. Trust requires face-to-face time that begins with eye-gazing with your infant, through inspirational adventures with your 9–year-old, and continues into the teen years by exploring your teen’s ideal activities with him or her. As Natalie Angier confirmed in her recent article “The Hormone Surge of Middle Childhood” in the New York Times, new findings from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and anthropology are finding that middle childhood is a time of great brain growth and emotional development.

Reinforced by the brain sciences, we know that middle childhood is when the parts of the brain that mediate emotional regulation and social learning are primed. Ages 9 through 12, once known by the horrible nickname of the tweens, is actually a time that involves keen awareness and probing into questions of fairness and social justice—not simply a time be-tween early childhood and teen years. Children this age have an avid appetite for learning the social rules and how to form and maintain trusting relationships. The relationships that most foster the development of trust at this age of important social brain growth involve trustworthy people who listen, who are honest, and who humbly admit their mistakes.

Trustworthy people listen, so just being there and listening to your child is very important. Children in this stage of development generally love to hear stories of your childhood and your feelings in different situations when you were their age. Remember to express your feelings in a developmentally appropriate way whenever you can. Put your feelings into the language of this age child and be sensitive to the child’s developmental capability to understand what you are offering him or her.

What you can do:

  • Communicate in feeling language.
  • Connect when your child is frustrated or upset—use the STEP method:

1.      Stop what you are doing.

2.      Take the time to look at your child and listen all the way through before you speak.

3.      Empathize and suspend judgment—ask questions to help him or her make sense of thr experience so that understanding can emerge.

4.      Ponder and reflect together—invite your child for ideas on what would be fair, new alternatives, and for making amends

After engaging these four STEPs in your relationship, your child will be more receptive to listen to you and hear your suggestions.

As Maria engaged the STEPS to nurture her 9-year-old daughter’s feeling development, she found that she reconnected to her own feelings and grew. She said, Then I started to connect with the feelings that I had… I realized how my fear of being helpless keeps me from feeling. While reflecting on her time nurturing trust with her daughter, Maria said, Emotionally, physically, psychologically, I’m a much happier person. I feel more honest and stronger.

Emotional Development as Adult Nurtures Trust with Child

Neural networks are strengthened by repeated use. In this way, experience continues to create and recreate the actual hardwiring of our brains throughout childhood as we develop, learn, and grow. The good news is that as research continues, we continue to gain more information about the importance of relationship to emotional responding, the relations between emotions and cognition, and emotional reorganization and regulation ongoing throughout adult life. Research has shown that interpersonal relationships increase emotional development in the areas of emotional complexity, self-knowledge, awareness, and the ability to self-regulate our emotions.

The more Maria opened to the complexity of all her emotions, the more she developed access to emotional well-being. She became more honest and experienced greater emotional connection with each of her family members. As her ability to love and accept the love of others increased, she experienced gratitude. 

Nurturing my children’s development has been life-altering for me personally, for my relationships, and for my family. I am so grateful for the riches that it continues to bring to us all. I would not be where I am today spiritually, emotionally, physically. And I really love where I am.


Engaging your child using the STEPs above during feeling development (ages 8 through 12), you and your child will build a life of connection through the relationship of sharing feelings, stepping into the other’s perspectives, reading nonverbal cues, self-reflection, and learning how to make amends. By becoming a trustworthy feeling mentor for a child, we find ourselves immersed in experiencing ourselves as responsible and full of trust. 


Four Aspects of Adult Emotional Development:

when adults nurture the development of trust with a child


  • Feeling awareness: increased consciousness of feelings in yourself, your child and in others.
  • Trust in yourself, in your intuition, in your child’s feelings, and in others
  • Empathy with your child and with others
  • Complex interrelated feelings of greater emotional connection, increased honesty, and humility



Posted on March 24, 2012 by Josette Luvmour, PhD

Josette Luvmour, PhD is a developmentalist, consultant, educator who specializes in child development, adult development, and sustainable family relationships. She serves in the non-profit sector as Director of Family and Professional Development at Summa Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides Natural Learning RelationshipsTM programs to students, families, and professionals. In addition to her 26-year consulting practice at Luvmour Consulting, LLC, she is author of five books and numerous journal articles and chapters that focus on building positive relationships with children. 

©2012, Josette Luvmour, PhD. All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.

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