We used to think that IQ was a deciding factor in how a child would fare in adulthood. However, many years of research and studies have proven that emotional regulation is incredibly important to mental health and wellbeing, so much so that, when it comes to being a well-adjusted adult, all the intelligence and education in the world is no substitute for emotional awareness, self-understanding, self-regulation, and empathy.
Without these life skills even the most academically able of adults is likely to struggle in later life. And just like many learning journeys, the building blocks of emotional regulation are built at home during a child’s early years. Children copy our behaviour, so how we interact with them in their formative years will leave an indelible mark on their future lives
Dr. John Gottman, an American psychologist and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, studied family relationships for over 40 years. He concluded that EQ (emotional intelligence), rather than IQ (intelligence quotient) is the best predictor of how kids will turn out. He also distinguished two types of parents - emotion-coaching and emotion-dismissing.
What is an Emotion Dismissing Parent?
An emotion-dismissing parent attempts to deal with their child’s negative feelings and emotions by ignoring or dismissing them, behaving as if there is no problem and expecting their child to suppress and swallow their feelings rather than addressing them. Essentially, they avoid dealing with these emotions by changing the subject and talking about something positive instead. Their parenting technique involves a ‘get over it’ approach, expecting their child to ‘roll with the punches’ and ‘move on’ and ‘stop causing a fuss’.
Do You Have Any of These Traits?
The key traits of Emotion dismissing parents are:
Considering negative emotions to be harmful.
Not wanting kids to be upset, sad or angry and feeling that they are bad parents if their child shows any sign of unhappiness.
Viewing emotion as a jacket you wear – they decide which jacket the child should wear i.e. what emotion they should be feeling.
Considering negative emotions as a decision to be in unhappy place rather than happy place.
Failing to notice low intensity emotions (both their own and their childs’) and being ill-equipped with the language to express their own emotions.
Being impatient with kids’ emotions (for example, they will punish a child for an angry outburst, because they think that anger is disrespectful).
Being overly warm and affectionate while simultaneously dismissing the negative emotion (What’s the matter? It’s not a big deal, put a smile on your face!!)
Being more action oriented rather than emotion attuned (Do you need to go outside? Are you hungry? Don’t dwell on it, take it lightly.)
Don’t notice lower-intensity emotions.
See negative emotions as toxic.
Believe thinking about feelings is harmful and a waste of time.
React negatively and may punish a child for being angry, even if they have not misbehaved.
What is an Emotion Coaching Parent?
Emotion coaching parents have a very different approach to emotional outbursts.
They pay attention to their child’s emotions and rather than dismissing them, they treat negative feelings as an opportunity for connection and teaching. They explain that experiencing a full range of emotions, including negative ones such as sadness and anger, is healthy and normal.
Emotion coaching parents always first communicate understanding and empathy, ‘that must have been hard’ or ‘you must feel so disappointed’ and then help their children to verbalise and label the emotion before helping them to regulate it.
The only way to learn how to regulate emotions is to first understand them. Once a child understands how and why and what they are feeling, they can then come to a point where they are ready to own and act appropriately on their emotions.
Once the child has understood and labelled a negative emotion, then advice, problem solving, and action can follow. Please keep in mind that, although action is very important, setting boundaries, problem-solving and patience are also key ingredients of your child’s emotional wellbeing.
Once emotions have calmed, the key message that the child should take away from this parenting approach is that all feelings are acceptable, however not all behaviours are, some need to cease or be modified.
Emotion coaching parents:
Notice lower intensity emotions.
See emotions as opportunity to connect.
Teach how to problem solve.
Learning to Become an Emotion Coaching Parent
Most of us will display traits of emotion dismissing parents from time to time and that’s okay, because even as adults we don’t always manage to regulate our own emotions. Nevertheless, by being more aware and mindful of our own emotional state we can better regulate our own emotions going forward, which in turn is a huge step towards being able to successfully coach our children’s emotions.
Emotion coaching is a little like learning a new language. Just as you would start with a few simple words to communicate taxi directions or a restaurant order, with time simple words will become longer phrases and more detailed conversations at the bank or with your child’s teacher. The same process applies to emotion coaching, it’s a learning process for you and your child.
Even if you grew up in an environment where your parents expressed love and discipline by dismissing most of your negative emotions, by recognising the pitfalls of their approach, you can change this by taking steps towards emotion coaching your own children. Remember, you need to try to notice their emotions and validate them regardless of whether they are positive or negative, use them as an opportunity to connect, help your child verbalise the emotion by labelling it and express your empathy. And only when the atmosphere is calmer and everyone is feeling more balanced, should you brainstorm problem solving solutions.
Emotion Coaching Tips
For those times when your child is sad or angry and you can’t find the right words, communicating empathy is key here are some suggestions that you might find helpful.
Use these statements to communicate empathy and understanding to your child:
You must feel so _______________ (helpless, hopeless, frustrated).
I wish you didn’t have to go through this.
Oh, wow, that sounds terrible.
You probably felt really _______________ (fill in emotion)!
No wonder you’re upset.
I’d feel the same way you do in your situation.
That would scare me, too.
That sounds so embarrassing.
You must have felt like sinking through the floor.
You must have been furious!
I’d be so mad if I had to go through that.
That sounds really scary.
That must have been _______________ (fill in emotion: painful, frustrating, fun) for you.
That sounds fantastic.
What a surprise.
That’s just shocking.
That would make me _______________ (fill in emotion: mad, sad, angry) too.
I would have been disappointed by that, too.
That would have hurt my feelings also.
Wow! That must have really hurt your feelings.
I would have trouble coping with that.
That would make me feel insecure.
How exciting for you!