One of the most common questions I get asked by parents is how do I respond to my child’s negative emotions?
I love this question! Not only because I happen to have some answers, but because this is a really important area of parenting. Did you know that how we respond to our children’s emotions can have a significant impact on their emotional and social development both now during their childhood and the adolescent years, but also well into adulthood?
According to research conducted by Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues of the Gottman Institute, parents who help their children identify and understand their feelings tend to develop better coping strategies in their children and this relates to less behavioural and emotional problems. Moreover, these children tend to perform better academically, are more emotionally stable and resilient, tend to have better peer and social relationships and are less inclined to develop infectious illnesses.
Dr. Gottman termed this parenting style emotion coaching, and is comprised of the following 5 steps:
- Listen empathetically. Pay attention to what your child is saying (or trying to say) and become more aware of their feelings
- Connect with your child around emotions and view this as a time for closeness and teaching
- Validate the feeling. Let your child know you understand and share with them around the emotion (e.g., “feeling sad about that makes sense…I would feel sad too if something special of mine broke”).
- Label your child’s emotions (e.g., “It seems that you are feeling sad. Is that right?) or help them to describe what they are feeling
- Set limits and problem solve to help your child feel better and teach them how to manage their feelings in appropriate ways (e.g., “let’s look at that broken toy and see if we can fix it”, “how about for now we find another one of your favourite toys and play a game together?”)
Emotion coaching is a skill, and as such, will require practise, patience and perseverance.