Be an Emotional Coach for Your Child
Emotions are heating up now. We live in times of fear, sadness and anger, grieving for the loss of normalcy in our daily lives as the pandemic has changed the definition of normalcy. Circumstances are challenging for the most calm and resilient of us, not to mention our children, who are still learning to identify and manage their emotional responses. But this experience we are having may actually be the best time to help our children develop higher levels of emotional intelligence.
Psychologist, researcher and author Leah Waters writes for The Guardian that our children won’t be resilient simply by their experiences; they will increase their resilience in part through our emotional response to their feelings. We can be either “emotional trainers,” she writes, or “emotional exterminators.”
Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that children who grow up with parents using emotional coaching have a calmer central nervous system, a lower resting heart rate, a healthier emotional brain structure, and better coping skills. These are children who remain calm under pressure. These are the survival skills our kids need right now.
You probably know what emotional layoffs sound like. They make negative emotions seem unimportant, stupid, or not worth dwelling on. They may tease, threaten, punish a child for showing negative emotions, or ignore them altogether.
Emotional coaches, on the other hand, empathize and help label their child’s emotions. From this point on, the child will be able to understand his feelings and strengthen his ability to regulate them.
The Gottman Institute offers the following five steps in emotional coaching:
1. Be mindful of your child’s emotions.
2. Consider your child’s expression of emotion as an ideal moment for intimacy and learning.
3. Listen empathetically and appreciate the child’s feelings.
4. Help your child learn to verbalize his emotions.
5. Set limits when you help your child solve problems or deal appropriately with unpleasant situations.
If you are not naturally an emotional trainer, this is a skill you can learn. Clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham describes a detailed six-step process on her website, Aha! Education . This starts by calming down first and then making a connection, seeking to understand how they are feeling and support them in solving problems.
As you practice, Markham writes, the process will become more natural, and you will begin to see how your child is better able to express emotions in a constructive way. And if we have anything now, it is an abundance of emotions, and a lot of time to talk about them.