Contributed by Austin Raines
During childhood and adolescence, individuals have a greater ability to learn and digest new information. The commonly used saying is that kids absorb new information like a sponge. During the early stages of development, kids are constantly taking in new material that is primarily learned through observation. Whether they are observing their peers, teachers, coaches, or parents, kids are constantly examining and listening to their surroundings and applying that information to their own lives.
While this isn’t groundbreaking information, my goal in this blog post is to emphasize the importance of how parents model their ability to display and regulate their emotions in a healthy manner because of this unique ability that kids possess. Demonstrating healthy emotions is imperative for parents as they work as a model for their children and help them learn how to manage their own emotions effectively. When parents display healthy emotions, such as coping with stress in a beneficial way or expressing sadness in a positive manner, that teaches their children that expressing emotions in constructive ways is healthy.
When modeling the ability to properly regulate your emotions to your kids, you are acting as an emotional coach. The idea of emotion coaching is a fundamental concept for parenting, as it emphasizes the importance of recognizing, understanding, and managing your emotions in a healthy way. It centers around the idea of supporting children in identifying emotions and then assisting them in developing effective ways to cope with or handle these emotions.
Nobody is the perfect parent, so slip-ups are inevitable. However, there are common mistakes parents should consciously avoid when responding to their kid’s emotions. These examples include punishing a child for their emotions instead of the misbehavior and using distractions to suppress or eliminate emotions.
Emotion coaching has five general steps that can be used to help get you started. Please know that you don’t have to follow all five steps exactly and that emotional coaching is a learned skill. This process takes time and training, but if used correctly can benefit the whole family!
The emotion coaching steps are:
- Becoming aware of the emotions your child is feeling: Take time to tune into both your child’s emotions and your own feelings. Emotions are displayed through body language, facial expressions, attitude changes, and changes in tone of voice.
- Connect with your child: Highly emotional moments represent a fantastic opportunity to become more closely connected with your child. This can also reinforce that you are interested in hearing about what your child is feeling.
- Listen to your child: The easiest and most effective way to show your child that you care is by respectfully listening. It displays that you take what they’re going through seriously and that they aren’t alone.
- Name or label emotions: Work together to identify the emotion your child is feeling instead of telling them the emotion they are displaying. Simply naming the emotion can help relax and soothe your child.
- Find effective solutions: When feeling strong emotions, people commonly act out or misbehave to express what they are feeling. With kids, it’s very important to redirect misbehavior of their actions, but not what they’re feeling. Help your child explore how their feelings led to their inappropriate behavior.
A central component of emotion coaching is validation. Validation centers around the idea of acknowledging and accepting another person’s emotions and emotional experiences. When using validation, one must display empathy and a general understanding of the hardships someone is facing. People really struggle to grasp the concept of validation and what it fully means. Expressing validation can be very difficult, but please don’t make the very common mistake of believing that in order to express validation, you have totally agree with or feel the same way as the person you are validating. That’s not true. Validation conveys to your child that you hear them and that you care about what they are dealing with, even if you can’t relate to their experiences.
Parents who use emotional coaching effectively and display their own emotions in a healthy way create a positive emotional climate in their home, which has countless benefits. A positive emotional climate can lead to better family relationships, improved communication, increased empathy and understanding, improved self-esteem in yourself and in your kids, and better overall mental health. By setting a positive example for children and creating an emotionally safe space in the home, parents can help their kids progress towards strong emotional regulation skills and building resiliency in the face of adversity.