Many parents are uncomfortable with strong negative emotions. Trying to be helpful, they offer their child distraction, rush to fix the problem and either minimize or deny the child’s feelings.
Isn’t it our job to make our kids feel better?
As it turns out, we do our children a better service when we coach them through difficult feelings and allow them to learn that they will come out on the other side.
John Gottman outlines the following steps in his book, “Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child.”
- Be aware of your child’s emotions
- Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
- Listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings
- Help the child verbally label the emotions
- Set limits while helping the child problem-solve.
At the center of raising an emotionally intelligent child is the heart of the parent.
Rather than simply trying to change behavior, emotional coaching is a way of being with a child during times when emotions are intense: mad, sad, glad, bad.
One mother recognized that changing her mindset was instrumental in becoming an effective emotional coach for her daughter.
“When she got really angry or really upset about something, I would immediately think, ‘Oh, no! I’ve got to make it better!’” she said.
“Once I stopped coming from my own fear and need to fix things, and recognized that instead this was a chance for us to grow closer and for me to teach her a valuable life skill, it was much easier to be with her through the tears.”
Then her daughter was ready to come up with some ideas to solve the problem on her own.
For many parents it isn’t easy to sit still while their child is seized by strong emotions, especially given the sometimes dizzying speed of life.
Teaching emotional intelligence takes time. We parents also must face our own feelings if in childhood we learned to hide, avoid or deny our intense feelings.
Still, teaching our children how to weather the storm of strong emotion may be the best gift we give them.
It is worth the effort.