Sometimes our children’s outbursts can catch us off guard or fuel emotions in us. However, in their defense, they may be too young and lack the skill to be able to appropriately tell us what they need or how they are feeling.
One of the best gifts you can give your child is to be their emotion coach. Just like you coach them on how to ride their bike or hit a ball, you can coach them on identifying and responding to these big emotions.
Why emotional intelligence matters
Research by the Gottman Institute tells us that when children have one parent that responds to them lovingly and helps build their emotional vocabulary, at least 30-40 percent of the time, they have better outcomes when it comes to academics, relationships and feelings of self-worth.
The idea is to develop your child’s Social-Emotional Intelligence (EQ) which provides them with the skills and tools to be able to recognize and manage their own feelings as well as being able to show empathy and compassion for others. If you think about, even as adults, we tend to want to spend more time with people who have these skills! The best time to build these foundational skills is in early childhood. And, parents play a big role in building their child’s EQ!
The Gottman Institute provides Five Essential Steps for Emotion Coaching:
- Be aware of your child’s emotions.
- Recognize your child’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy and teaching.
- Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings.
- Help your child learn to label their emotions with words.
- Set limits when you are helping your child solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately.
It takes a conscious effort to do these steps and it helps to just focus on one step at a time if this feels overwhelming. You can start by just commenting on what you see. “I see your body getting tense and hear that your voice getting louder.”
Then you can validate and provide empathy. “I am disappointed we can’t go outside too.” Just doing this step will lower the intensity. When feelings are named, they are easier to manage, and they begin to dissipate because we don’t have to spend energy defending why we feel the way we do. “Name it to tame it” is what Daniel Siegel says.
Continue to expand your child’s vocabulary regarding feelings by using something other than happy, sad, angry or calm.
Shift your mindset
Shifting your thinking from, “How can I discipline or punish my child to make this behavior stop?” to “I wonder what is going on and it must be scary to have that big emotion,” will change the dynamics in your family very quickly!
Keep in mind that developing the ability to manage emotions is an ongoing process. Your child will need your support for many years! There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so just be a real one and focus on connecting rather than punishing.
Lack of good sleep makes all of this more challenging, so that is the first place to start if you are being challenged by big emotions the majority of the day. Check out our website to download the FREE five-page Keys to Peaceful Sleep that will help you evaluate where your family is at and changes you may want to make. Individual coaching can support you in those changes to help your children learn to calm, self-soothe and sleep all night!
If you would like more assistance, please reach out for a free 20-minute consultation!