The below article has been written by Busy Bees Area Manager, Sue Johnson
They are unexpected, they are powerful, they are energising, they are contagious, they are overwhelming, and they are random. They are personal, they are bold and don’t hold back, they impact us every day. They are our emotions!
From the moment we are born, we express ourselves through our emotions, our thoughts, and what we hear, see, feel, and create. Our emotions drive our behaviour. As adults, we’re able to use our “upstairs brain” to identify and control our emotions, using coping mechanisms that we have learned throughout our lives. We can take time out, use mindfulness strategies, meditate, communicate, exercise and apply self-control – but what if you can’t?
What about the toddler who has a major meltdown because their toy was taken away; their sandwich was cut the wrong way; they didn’t get the red cup to drink from; or when they have to share the swing. Their reactions to these situations can vary: screaming, crying, sulking, stomping their feet or a full blown tantrum! In the words of Daniel Siegel, they just “flip their lid.”
When you’re small, every emotion is big. So, how do we handle the emotions of an overwhelmed child?
Most of the time, adults respond to children’s feelings in ways that match our own attitudes. We all have strong attitudes and beliefs about our own emotions; how we value them and how we cope with them helps to shape how we parent and nurture children.
Emotion Coaching is a style that best nurtures a child’s emotional development. It begins with empathy, which means to value and share a child’s emotional experience. It helps a child learn how to handle their emotions in positive ways.
Dr John Gottman identified 4 styles that most adults tend to use in order to manage their child’s emotions, and usually one style more than the other. They are known as:
The Dismissing Style:
This is to ignore, dismiss or ridicule negative emotions. When a child is angry or upset, an adult might say “stop being angry, there’s no reason to feel like this,” or “get over it.” As a result, the child will believe that “bad” emotions such as anger are wrong, and they may never learn how to handle them.
The Disapproving Style:
Similar to the Dismissing style, this is when “bad” emotions are punished. An adult might say “stop feeling that way, keep it up and you’ll be sent to your room.” A child will believe that something is wrong with them if they feel upset or sad.
The Laissez-Faire Style:
This is emotions without guidance, “do what you need to do, whatever you feel like doing is okay.” A child will feel comfortable expressing their feelings and that they are accepted, but there are no limits to their behaviour, and no guidance on how to deal with their feelings constructively.
The Emotion Coaching Style:
A parent says “tell me how you feel. If you’re angry, you might want to sit down and tell me about what happened” It’s about accepting an emotion, teaching your child how to talk about it, and helping them problem solve by offering choices on how to deal with their feelings.
Emotion Coaching teaches children that there is no such thing as a “bad” emotion; it’s how we handle them that matters. Whether the feeling is positive or negative, it’s okay to feel and express those feelings.
Positive emotions are easier for children to identify and manage, after all a good mood is infectious!
But when a child shows negative emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, rage, or jealousy, often adults will dismiss or attempt to rescue the situation to make it go away. This is a natural reaction, no parent wants their child to feel upset or experience tough emotions. This also affects our own moods and can set the tone for the rest of the day if these feelings are not handled correctly.
With practice, we can all use the 5 steps of emotion coaching to support and nurture children as they learn to navigate difficult emotions.
- Be aware of your child’s emotions
- Recognise emotions as an opportunity to connect and create intimacy. When your child shows signs of being upset, encourage them to talk about it
- Listen to your child with empathy and validate their feelings. Be understanding, and don’t judge
- Help your child name the emotion – are they angry, sad, embarrassed, scared, or happy and excited?
- Set limits and find good solutions – “I can see that you’re angry, but it is not okay to hit your friend. How about I help you find another toy to play with?”
A child feels valued and comforted when all of their emotions are accepted, but they should also learn that there are limits to their behaviour and to express and deal with their feelings in more helpful ways.
Emotions are a natural part of our lives. Understanding and identifying our own emotions, and recognizing emotions in children, are the first steps to becoming an emotion coach!
Gottman.J 1997 Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting.