Seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another. –Alfred Adler
Do you ever feel like you are using all the parenting strategies one could possibly ever try and frustrated because you’re not getting the results you hoped for? In recent years, “emotion coaching” has become an excellent accompaniment to effective parenting practices and invaluable for teaching kids how to manage challenging emotional experiences. I was introduced to this idea from Dr. John Gottman and colleagues’ research on relationships and proven techniques, that have helped many a marital, parent-child, or other relationship. I am convinced that these techniques go hand-in-hand with general parenting strategies and are essential to positive child (and adult) development.
Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting (Gottman & DeClaire, 1997) is one of my favorite “go to” books. Gottman and DeClaire write “we have inherited a tradition of discounting children’s feelings simply because children are smaller, less rational, less experienced, and less powerful than the adults around them” (p. 31). Likely because we just don’t know any better, we sometimes fall into a trap of thinking that kids’ emotions are not relevant to the situation, aren’t appropriate, are trivial, are “over the top,” are humorous in a non-supportive way, or are just wrong. Or, we might wonder whether all expressions of emotion should be allowed, but we forget to give some guidance on ways emotions can be expressed that are productive and respectful to self and others. The writers advocate for giving parents more support in this arena because “negative feelings dissipate when children can talk about their emotions, label them, and feel understood” (p. 93).
Gottman and DeClaire offer five essential elements to coaching your child:
- The importance of increasing your awareness of your own emotions and your child’s
- Times when emotions are present are excellent teaching and learning opportunities
- Specific strategies to listen with empathy and validate emotions
- Ways to help children label emotions
- Setting limits on misbehavior and solving problems that led to intense emotional reactions
There are great examples of phrases you can use (often, I think it is very difficult finding the words when you are in the moment) and quizzes to explore the parenting style you may lean toward (dismissing, disapproving, laissez faire, or emotion coaching). I also appreciate the list of circumstances under which it is not a good idea to use emotion coaching. The role of fathers, the impact of conflictual marital relationships or divorce, and a review of the emotions kids typically experience as they mature are also included.
If you ever find your child’s eyes glazing over after you gave them excellent advice, tried in vain to solve their problem, or were wondering how to help your child learn about and express feelings, this book is for you! I have seen many parent-child relationships transformed with these strategies and feel confident we are teaching great set of skills this generation will use to build healthy relationships.
Check out the full citation in the Resources: Books section of this website.