Monday, July 15, 2024

Emotion Coaching: The Key to Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids

January 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Parenting From Balance©

I am posting this excerpt because it is a really accessible way to understand many of the concepts that NVC also embraces, with the added step of clarifying the difference between “Authoritarian Parent,” Authoritative Parent,” and “Permissive Parent,” and the importance of rule setting.

It is taken from a wonderful book called “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” by John Gottman

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapter 1
author: John Gottman

Emotion Coaching: The Key to Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids

In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships. For parents, this quality of “emotional intelligence” — as many now call it — means being aware of your children’s feelings, and being able to empathize, soothe, and guide them. For children, who learn most lessons about emotion from their parents, it includes the ability to control impulses, delay gratification, motivate themselves, read other people’s social cues, and cope with life’s ups and downs.

“Family life is our first school for emotional learning,” writes Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, a book that describes in rich detail the scientific research that has led to our growing understanding of this field. “In this intimate cauldron we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings; how to think about these feelings and what choices we have in reacting; how to read and express hopes and fears. This emotional schooling operates not just through the things parents say and do directly to children, but also in the models they offer for handling their own feelings and those that pass between husband and wife. Some parents are gifted emotional teachers, others atrocious.”

Our results tell a simple, yet compelling story. We have found that most parents fall into one of two broad categories: those who give their children guidance about the world of emotion and those who don’t.

I call the parents who get involved with their children’s feelings “Emotion Coaches.” Much like athletic coaches, they teach their children strategies to deal with life’s ups and downs. They don’t object to their children’s displays of anger, sadness, or fear. Nor do they ignore them. Instead, they accept negative emotions as a fact of life and they use emotional moments as opportunities for teaching their kids important life lessons and building closer relationships with them.

Taken alone, warm, positive parenting does not teach emotional intelligence. In fact, it’s common for parents to be loving and attentive, yet incapable of dealing effectively with their children’s negative emotions. Among these parents who fail to teach their kids emotional intelligence, I have identified three types:

1. Dismissing parents, who disregard, ignore, or trivialize children’s negative emotions;

2. Disapproving parents, who are critical of their children’s displays of negative feelings and may reprimand or punish them for emotional expression; and

3. Laissez-Faire parents, who accept their children’s emotions and empathize with them, but fail to offer guidance or set limits on their children’s behavior.

To give you an idea of how differently Emotion-Coaching parents and their three noncoaching counterparts respond to their children, imagine Diane, whose little boy protested going to daycare, in each of these roles.

If she was a Dismissing parent, she might tell him that his reluctance to go to daycare is “silly”; that there’s no reason to feel sad about leaving the house. Then she might try to distract him from his sad thoughts, perhaps bribing him with a cookie or talking about fun activities his teacher has planned.

As a Disapproving parent, Diane might scold Joshua for his refusal to cooperate, telling him she’s tired of his bratty behavior, and threatening to spank him.

As a Laissez-Faire parent, Diane might embrace Joshua in all his anger and sadness, empathize with him, tell him it’s perfectly natural for him to want to stay home. But then she’d be at a loss for what to do next. She wouldn’t want to scold, spank, or bribe her son, but staying home wouldn’t be an option, either. Perhaps in the end, she’d cut a deal: I’ll play a game with you for ten minutes — then it’s out the door with no crying. Until tomorrow morning, that is.

So what would the Emotion Coach do differently? She might start out like the Laissez-Faire parent, empathizing with Joshua, and letting him know that she understands his sadness. But she would go further, providing Joshua with guidance for what to do with his uncomfortable feelings. Perhaps the conversation would go something like this:

Diane: Let’s put on your jacket, Joshua. It’s time to go.

Joshua: No! I don’t want to go to daycare.

Diane: You don’t want to go? Why not?

Joshua: Because I want to stay here with you.

Diane: You do?

Joshua: Yeah I want to stay home.

Diane: Gosh, I think I know just how you feel. Some mornings I wish you and I could just curl up in a chair and look at books together instead of rushing out the door. But you know what? I made an important promise to the people at my office that I’d be there by nine o’clock and I can’t break that promise.

Joshua (starting to cry): But why not? It’s not fair. I don’t want to go.

Diane: Come here, Josh. (Taking him onto her lap.) I’m sorry, honey, but we can’t stay home. I’ll bet that makes you feel disappointed doesn’t it?

Joshua (nodding): Yeah.

Diane: And kind of sad?

Joshua: Yeah.

Diane: I feel kind of sad, too. (She lets him cry for a while and continues to hug him, letting him have his tears.) I know what we can do. Let’s think about tomorrow, when we don’t have to go to work and daycare. We’ll be able to spend the whole day together. Can you think of anything special you’d like to do tomorrow?

Joshua: Have pancakes and watch cartoons?

Diane: Sure, that would be great. Anything else?

Joshua: Can we take my wagon to the park?

Diane: I think so.

Joshua: Can Kyle come, too?

Diane: Maybe. We’ll have to ask his mom. But right now it’s time to get going, okay?

Joshua: Okay.

At first glance, the Emotion-Coaching parent may seem much like the Dismissing parent because both directed Joshua to think about something other than staying home. But there is an important distinction. As an Emotion Coach, Diane acknowledged her son’s sadness, helped him to name it, allowed him to experience his feelings, and stayed with him while he cried.
She didn’t try to distract his attention away from his feelings. Nor did she scold him for feeling sad, as the Disapproving mother did. She let him know that she respects his feelings and thinks his wishes are valid.

Unlike the Laissez-Faire mother, the Emotion-Coaching parent set limits. She took a few extra minutes to deal with Joshua’s feelings, but she let him know that she wasn’t going to be late for work and break her promise to her co-workers. Joshua was disappointed but it was a feeling both he and Diane could deal with. And once Joshua had a chance to identify, experience, and accept the emotion, Diane showed him it was possible to move beyond his sad feelings and look forward to fun the next day.

This response is all part of the process of Emotion Coaching that my research colleagues and I uncovered in our studies of successful parent-child interactions. The process typically happens in five steps. The parents:
1. become aware of the child’s emotion;
2. recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching;
3. listen empathetically, validating the child’s feelings;
4. help the child find words to label the emotion he is having; and
5. set limits while exploring strategies to solve the problem at hand.

The Effects of Emotion Coaching
What difference does it make when children have Emotion-Coaching parents? By observing and analyzing in detail the words, actions, and emotional responses of families over time, as we have done in our studies, we have discovered a truly significant contrast. Children whose parents consistently practice Emotion Coaching have better physical health and score higher academically than children whose parents don’t offer such guidance. These kids get along better with friends, have fewer behavior problems, and are less prone to acts of violence. Over all, children who are Emotion-Coached experience fewer negative feelings and more positive feelings. In short, they’re more healthy emotionally.

But here’s the result I find most surprising: When mothers and fathers use a coaching style of parenting, their children become more resilient. The kids who are Emotion-Coached still get sad, angry, or scared under difficult circumstances, but they are better able to soothe themselves, bounce back from distress, and carry on with productive activities. In other words, they are more emotionally intelligent.
Indeed, our research shows that Emotion Coaching can even protect kids from the proven harmful effects of an increasingly common crisis for American families — marital conflict and divorce.

With more than half of all marriages now ending in divorce, millions of children are at risk for problems many social scientists have linked to family dissolution. These problems include school failure, rejection by other children, depression, health challenges, and antisocial behavior. Such problems can also affect children from unhappy, conflict-ridden homes even when their parents don’t divorce. Our own research shows that when a couple constantly fights, their conflict gets in the way of their child’s ability to form friendships. We also found that marital conflict affects a child’s schoolwork and increases the child’s susceptibility to illness. We now know that a major result of the epidemic of ailing and dissolving marriages in our society is an increase in deviant and violent behavior among children and teenagers.

But when the Emotion-Coaching parents in our studies experienced marital conflict, or were separated or divorced, something different happened. With the exception of the fact that these kids were generally “sadder” than the other children in our study, Emotion Coaching seemed to shield them from the deleterious effects suffered by so many who have this experience. Previously proven effects of divorce and marital conflict, such as academic failure, aggression, and problems with peers, did not show up in the Emotion-Coached kids; all of which suggests that Emotion Coaching offers children the first proven buffer against the emotional trauma of divorce.

Lots of Love,
Linda Shannon
Riviera PlaySchool, a Redondo Beach preschool for attachment parents


One Response to “Emotion Coaching: The Key to Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids”
  1. L Shannon says:

    I know this is a long article, but I knew you would be captivated. And the entire book is captivating, as well. Love, Linda

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