Emotions, they are running high right now. We’re living in a time of fear and sadness and anger, grieving the loss of normalcy in our day-to-day lives as the pandemic has redefined normal. The circumstances are challenging for the calmest and most resilient among us, let alone for our kids, who are still learning how to identify and manage their emotional reactions. But this experience we’re living through may actually be a prime time to help our kids develop higher levels of emotional intelligence.
Psychologist, researcher and author Lea Waters writes for The Guardian that our kids won’t become resilient simply through their experiences; they’ll build their resiliency, in part, through our emotional response to their feelings. We can either be “emotional coaches,” she writes, or “emotional dismissers.”
Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that children who grow up with parents who use emotional coaching have a calmer central nervous system, a lower resting heart rate, a healthier emotional brain circuitry and better coping skills. These are the kids who stay cool under pressure. Exactly the kind of coping skills our kids need right now.
You probably know what emotional dismissers sound like. They make negative emotions seem unimportant, silly or something not worth dwelling on. They may tease, threaten or punish a child for displaying negative emotions—or ignore them altogether.
Emotional coaches, on the other hand, empathise and help label their child’s emotions. From there, a child can build an understanding of their feelings and strengthen their ability to regulate them.
The Gottman Institute offers these five steps of emotion-coaching:
1. Be aware of your child’s emotion.
2. Recognise your child’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy and teaching.
3. Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings.
4. Help your child learn to label their emotions with words.
5. Set limits when you are helping your child to solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately.
If you’re not naturally an emotional coacher, it is a skill that can be learned. Clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham outlines a detailed six-step process to get you started on her website, Aha! Parenting. It begins with calming yourself first, and then connecting, seeking to understand how they’re feeling and supporting them in their problem-solving.
With practice, Markham writes, the process will come more naturally and you’ll begin to see your child get better at expressing emotions in a constructive way. And if there’s anything we have right now, it’s both an abundance of emotions and lots of time to talk about them.