Written by Hanna Doil. Published in November 2016 edition of Montana Parent Magazine.
“Children’s emotions are just as real as yours. Just because they might get sad over the color of their cup, does not make their emotion any less real.” –Rebekah Lipp
How many of our children’s tears have been spilled over not getting a favorite cup or not wanting the snack we have offered them? Likely more than many of us would like to admit. And although these moments can be most frustrating for us as adults, it is important to remember how significant they are for young children.
In recent years, we have come to understand more about the importance of children’s emotions and our reactions to those emotions. We now know that children who better understand their emotions and how to regulate them are more successful socially and academically. They also exhibit less defiant behavior. Children are not necessarily born with the skills to understand their own feelings or the feelings of others; they need caregiver support. Let’s include this title to our parenting resume: Emotion Coach.
The Attentive Parenting Program, a curriculum that Thrive offers and part of the Incredible Years training series, highlights emotion coaching. Attentive Parenting describes emotion coaches as adults who pay attention to children’s feelings and view emotions as an opportunity to connect and educate. Coaching starts with naming children’s emotions from the time that they are born, gradually becoming more complex as a child grows. Labeling feelings during the moment that children are experiencing them helps to create a link between the feeling word and the feeling itself. Once children develop an emotion vocabulary, they will be better able to recognize their feelings and then share those feelings with others.
Emotion coaching also leads to empathy as children begin to recognize and relate to how others are feeling. Empathy is an extremely important skill for children to learn as it contributes to healthy attachment and relationships with family members and friends, and is a necessary skill for developing an understanding of what’s right and wrong.
Attentive Parenting reminds us that as emotion coaches it is important to validate and acknowledge our children’s feelings so that they feel understood and can begin to develop a sense of self-acceptance. Validating means avoiding judgmental or critical statements while supporting the child through the emotion that they are experiencing.
Let us go back to the quote about colored cups. Your child begins to scream and cry because you gave them milk in the blue cup, not the green cup. An immediate response may be to say “You are fine! It’s not a big deal! Stop crying!” However, by acknowledging that your child may feel sad based on their reaction, you are helping them to understand what the emotion feels like so that eventually they can describe it to you instead of throwing a tantrum.
Attentive Parenting’s Tips for Emotion Coaching:
-Don’t forget to label positive emotions; they are just as important! We should actually be trying to label positive feelings more often than negative feelings.
-Think about situations when you may be able to use more complex feeling words such as: curious, relaxed, patient, creative, brave, proud, confident, frustrated, fearful, or embarrassed.
-It’s just as important to model our own use of emotion words as well as explaining what led to the emotion.
-Try providing information about what leads to specific emotions, as this helps children link the feeling with the cause. “Your face looks proud because you put that puzzle together by yourself. You have a big smile!”
-Point out and praise coping strategies. “You look frustrated, but you are staying calm.”
Watch for future articles for information about how to use emotion coaching to support self-regulation. In the meantime, use those feeling words!
Hanna Doil is the Parent Educator at Thrive.