Friday, May 4, 2012

Emotion Coaching Lessons

To quote a synopsis on "In this book, Dr. Gottman explains how to coach children to regulate their emotional world to increase self-confidence, improve school performance, and contribute to greater physical health and healthier social relationships. Written for parents of children of all ages, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child will enrich the bonds between parent and child and contribute immeasurably to the development of a generation of emotionally healthy adults." 

Self-confidence, good grades, healthy bodies, healthy friendships. Yes please. That is what I want for my child. And, though it seems far-removed from the day-to-day tasks of parenting small children, the ultimate goal here is to help these little people grow into the best adults possible.

I read this book hoping to find some additional tools to help me be a better guide to my kids. To help me connect with Mason, above and beyond playing Lego Star Wars with him (though if you ask him, that's all it takes to fulfill his emotional needs). To help me better understand and deal with Bree's dramatic mood swings and extreme sensitivity. And to clue in to Lincoln's emotions by noticing his subtle physical cues.

I loved the way this book has helped me look at communication with my kids. I took a quiz to discover what parenting style I have: mostly emotional-coaching, with some laissez-faire (or permissive) tendencies. Chad's parenting style can be dismissive at times (eg. "It's not that big a deal; stop crying."). I learned that I'm very aware and sensitive when it comes to dealing with sadness, but not so great at dealing with anger. Since reading this book, I have become much more aware of how I speak to my kids, and am trying to weed out phrases that I wouldn't have previously thought of as emotionally detrimental.

So I've been trying to implement the five step "emotion-coaching" process when emotions escalate in our house:
  1. Be aware of the child's emotions.
  2. Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching.
  3. Listen empathetically and validate the child's feelings.
  4. Help the child verbally label the emotions.
  5. Set limits while helping the child problem-solve.
    1. Set limits.
    2. Identify goals.
    3. Think of possible solutions.
    4. Evaluate proposed solutions based on your family's values.
    5. Help your child choose a solution.
There's nothing necessarily ground-breaking here. Just a well-outlined process to achieve results that had previously been escaping me.

Mason still has difficulty labeling his emotions, and still needs help figuring out "what would work better next time you get so angry you want to bite your sister." But he sure loves the praise when he makes the connection, and I'm trying to be better about praising appropriate emotional responses.

Bree is a little tougher to crack. Chad insists that she puts on the pouting act to get attention, and sometimes when I try to draw her into a conversation about her emotions, I feel like she's winning. But I have to get over myself and remind myself of the ultimate goal. Because I've known enough adults who cross their arms, look away, and refuse to talk. And I don't want Bree to be one of them. So I'm trying to be patient. And each emotion coaching session we have gets a little easier, a little more fluid. And she's opened up to me on a couple of occasions and told me "secrets" that I don't think she'd trust me with otherwise. I can already tell that she's empowered by the concept that I want her to share her moods with me ("frustrated" is a frequent occurrence in home-schooling).

And we adults need emotion coaching too. With ourselves and each other. I go through the steps with my kids after I throw a frustration tantrum, apologizing for not dealing with my emotions appropriately, and exploring how I could have better handled them.

So yes, this was a very beneficial read. And until this process becomes second nature, I will probably reference this post many times in the near future.


Jaime Lynne said...

I'm proud of you for already implementing some of the suggestions and tools you gained from the book. You're a great mom, Meg. And a wonderful friend.

The Burk Family said...

We should do this book for book club, we could all benefit from this book!

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