How To Be Your Child’s Emotion Coach

How To Be Your Child’s Emotion Coach

By Kelly McGinnis

Would you be surprised if I told you one of the biggest reasons parents and children struggle is the inability to achieve their goals? A recent study of 2.1 million people from 140 different countries was surveyed with the primary focus of measuring people’s happiness levels and positive emotions. The study showed that people between the ages of 18-22 showed exceedingly high levels of joy and excitement. Over time, the number of people reporting high levels of happiness decreased until around age 52, where it was an all-time low before slowly increasing. Researchers asked the particularly important question, “What causes these extremely low levels of happiness?”

The answer might shock you: PARENTING.

Let us look at it in a different way. Parents and kids often have competing goals. All the parents working from home know firsthand how difficult it is to achieve your work goals while simultaneously supporting and helping your children with distance learning. Kids get frustrated, too. They want to spend quality time with Mom and Dad, but we are distracted by our screens or phones. This is just the start of an emotional roller coaster. The next thing we know, our kids act out in defiance, throw a temper tantrum, or behave inappropriately. We immediately jump to action, trying to stop or redirect the behavior, and many times we miss the most important piece.
If you take a minute to review the titles in the parenting section at the local bookstore, you will find a myriad of books offering to help solve many difficult behaviors such as: “How to stop a temper tantrum,” “Getting your child to sleep through the night,” “Why my child won’t eat his broccoli,” “Protect teens from negative effects of social media,” and more. The interesting piece is that all those titles focus on unwanted behavior. In fact, most parenting books focus on fixing behaviors.

Dr. John Gottman set out to discover and identify what it takes to raise an emotionally intelligent child. “Dr. Gottman undertook a variety of scientific studies, which led him to the conclusion that the key to good parenting lies in understanding the emotional source of problematic behavior. He performed a detailed laboratory examination of children whose parents interacted with their emotions in various styles. The conclusions he reached were striking.” The parents that used Emotion Coaching and helped their children master the understanding and regulation of emotions were more successful. The children had higher self-confidence levels, performed better in social and academic situations, and were even physically healthier.

For decades researchers have been looking into the different types of parenting styles. The findings continue to be the same. The most successful parents are the ones that can balance high levels of control and direction with high levels of warmth and affection. This idea that we can set limits and boundaries and listen to our children’s opinions so that they feel heard and understood is the heart of Emotion Coaching. When parents take the time to understand, validate, and empathize with their child’s feelings, it opens a pathway to connect and begins to help with setting limits and problem-solving.

5 Simple Steps to Emotion Coaching:

Step One: Be Aware of Emotions. This step is all about raising awareness. The more we know about our own emotions, the better we can model for our children. Search for clues about how your child may be feeling. Notice their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions.

Step Two: Connect With Your Child. Use this as an opportunity to connect with your children. Parents often go right into problem-solving mode and do not think about how the child may be feeling. Spend a minute, turning toward the emotion and understanding the source. Be willing to understand your child’s emotions.

Step Three: Label the Emotion. The process of helping kids understand and label their feelings is a huge part of creating children with high levels of emotional intelligence. We all have the same basic emotions. Talk about emotions. Help them understand the difference between frustration and anger and the varying degree of emotions. Avoid telling them how they should feel and help them label how they really feel.

Step Four: Listen, Empathize, Validate. As you listen to your child, share about their feelings, acknowledge and empathize with them. Let them know that we all experience emotions. You can share a personal story with them about a time when you felt the same way. If you are uncomfortable sharing personal stories with your children, share a story about a friend, neighbor, or sibling.

Step Five: Explore Solutions Together. In this step, you set limits and begin to problem solve. For younger children, parents will need to provide positive options to express their emotions and help the children learn acceptable behaviors for the emotion. Parents help children learn to separate the emotion from the behavior. All emotions are acceptable, but not all behaviors. For older children, walk alongside them as they process the problem-solving piece. Ask questions and let them process. Encourage emotional expression but set limits on behavior. An example of a sassy teen may look like this, “I understand you are feeling frustrated that you can’t see your friends, but you should not yell at me. Let us work together to see if we can come up with a way to connect with your friends.”

The next time your child misbehaves or expresses negative emotions, use it as an opportunity to connect and figure out the underlying cause of the feeling. Put the 5 steps of Emotion Coaching to work in your relationship with your children. I promise you will not be disappointed.

*The Gottman Institute Blog