Under normal circumstances, parenting provides a plethora of opportunities for growth- both on our children’s part as well as our own. Under Covid 19 circumstances, those opportunities multiply by about 100. However, often the word “opportunity” is not the word that comes to mind in the midst of frustration and aggravation. If you have found yourself becoming short-tempered or easily irritated with your children (or have questioned your ability to parent in general), I assure you, you are not alone!
As parents, we will definitely blow it from time to time. But, the more we begin to see the opportunity that lies in the midst of the difficulty, the better we will become at responding to our children. Whether we realize it or not, every mess, tantrum, and broken moment provides an opportunity to teach our children emotion regulation and to build connection with them. Below I have outlined 5 Emotion Coaching Strategies (as identified by John Gottman) to implement the next time the opportunity presents itself.
- Be Aware of the Child’s Emotion
Before you respond to your child, take a moment to breathe and ask yourself, “What emotion is my child likely feeling right now?” If your answer is “anger,” ask yourself a second question: “What might be behind that anger?” For example, could they be feeling left out, discouraged, or hurt? Our capacity for empathy (and thereby patience) increases when we take the time to first recognize the emotion being experienced by our child.
- Recognize the Emotion as an Opportunity for Intimacy and Teaching
As you know, our children were not born knowing how to respond to their emotions. It is part of our job as parents to help guide them in this process and teach them the skills to navigate their feelings. And as I said above, when we’re able to take the time to teach, it builds connection in the relationship, which is a huge bonus.
- Listen Empathetically and Validate Your Child’s Feelings
One of the best things we can do is to listen with the goal of understanding. It’s easy to get swept away into problem-solving mode- but don’t go there too quickly! Letting our kids know we understand how they feel is powerful! Empathy and validation are superpowers when it comes to interacting and communicating with our children.
- Help Your Child Verbally Label Emotions
Let’s be honest- sometimes this is a hard one, even for adults! Our kids will need help with this occasionally, and that is to be expected. Having a list of feelings (or a face chart of feelings) available can be a great way to help them put a label to what they’re feeling. Helping your child identify their feeling is a valuable skill that will serve them for the rest of their life!
- Setting Limits While Helping the Child Problem-Solve
Remember, all of our emotions serve a purpose. If your child is feeling angry or frustrated, this last step provides resolution for the problem at hand. Teaching our children to think through solutions is such a valuable gift! Asking them to identify possible solutions teaches a needed skill while giving them a sense of empowerment and capability. However, children also need to be taught appropriate limits! When we collaboratively guide them in the problem-solving process, it is a win for everyone.
Adapted from Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman