Our children are being brought up in an over-coached society. Tennis coaching, swimming coaching, football coaching, cricket coaching and so on and so forth. Most children in the city are being coached in some activity or another. However, one area of coaching that is being totally neglected is emotion coaching. Our children (forget about children, even most adults) find it difficult to understand their emotions and deal with them appropriately. So what is the big deal you might say?
It is a big deal. The result of a decade of research carried out by
Dr John Gottman on emotion parenting styles in his famous Family Research Lab (Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, 1997, Fireside) have brought out interesting results. His research indicated that parents with Emotion Coaching Style had children who were good at regulating their intense, negative emotions, had fewer infectious illnesses, were more focused in their academic work, were better at understanding and relating to others and consequently made better friends. As he explains, “I discovered that while love by itself wasn’t enough, the secret lay in how parents interacted with their children when the emotions ran hot”.
So what is Emotion Coaching style? Before I explain that I would ask you to do a little exercise for me. Imagine your son/daughter has just returned from the park near you house crying miserably and declaring that he/she would not go to the park anymore. You find out that a few kids in the park had teased him/her and even laughed at him/her when he/she had started crying. What would be your reaction? Go through the 4 different parenting styles given below and try to answer as honestly as possible. Remember nobody needs to know your answer and your honesty could really help you to equip yourself with a more effective parenting style:
- Dismissive Style: If you feel a little uncomfortable with the emotional outburst then you might want to distract his/her attention. Or you might choose to just jump in and try to ‘fix it’ by tickling him/her, cracking a joke or even entice him/her with a treat, “don’t worry about those silly kids let me buy you a chocolate to make you feel better”. Chances are high that you subscribe to the belief, “ignore it and it will go away”. The child might end up feeling better but then he/she would miss out on an important lesson of understanding emotions and learning to deal with them effectively. He/she might grow up thinking that feeling upset/sad/angry is not alright and one has to push them aside and not give it much importance.
- Disapproving Style: You might feel very irritated with all the crying and tell him/her to stop snivelling and ‘grow up’. If he/she does not stop you might criticise him/her for being such a ‘cry baby’. You might tell him/her to be more assertive/aggressive and not let other children bully him/her all the time. His/her whining might start grating on your nerves and you might think that he/she was just being ‘attention seeking’ and ‘manipulative’ to avoid getting on with him/her routine. Somewhere deep down there might be a feeling of being a failure as a parent because your child is turning out to be so “pathetic”. You might start thinking of ways to toughen him/her up including enrolling him/her for karate or taekwondo class. Children brought up with disapproving style can grow believing that showing emotions is a sign of weakness and giving it any attention is just a way of encouraging it. It is obvious that this style is used more with boys who are expected to be strong, not cry and act tough.
- Laissez Faire Style: Unlike dismissive and disapproving parents, laissez faire style parents accept emotions as being natural and encourage their children to express themselves. So if you follow the “Let it Be’ brigade then your reaction might be to drop everything and sit down with your child and let her/him cry it all out. You might spend a long time listening to her/him but the discussion might just go around in circles. The child might go away feeling comforted but not with a clear understanding of her/his feelings or how to manage them better. These children might grow up to be very much in touch with their emotions, and in fact too much of emotions. They might like to understand, analyse and delve deep into their emotional world without any idea of how to come out of it. Anybody who is not able to tune into their enmeshed feelings might be seen as being insensitive and uncaring.
- Emotion Coaching Style: This style of parenting goes a few steps ahead of laissez faire style in actually coaching the child to understand and deal with emotions more effectively. Five steps to Emotion Coaching are as follows:
- Awareness and acceptance of child’s emotions. “Let’s sit and talk about it’
- Capturing these ‘magic moments’ of bonding deeply with the child. ‘Can I hold you on my lap?’
- Listening, empathising and validating child’s feelings. “I am sure it hurt when they teased you”
- Helping the child to understand and label the emotions. “I would have felt angry too”, “Is that what you are feeling?”
- Brainstorming various options of dealing with the situation more successfully next time. “Lets see how you can stand upto them next time they try pushing you”.
Let me clarify that there is not just one particular style of parenting we adopt while bringing up our children. It can be a combination. However, there is always a predominant style that we might feel most comfortable with especially when dealing with intense feelings. So if after this exercise you feel that you need to work on your Emotion Coaching style with your child then I would suggest that first start with becoming more aware of your own emotions. Start tracking them through the day especially during sticky times (when the boss is being unreasonable, or during a disagreement with your husband). Push the pause button and label what you are feeling (angry, hurt, jealous, scared). Take a deep breath and give yourself sometime to calm down. Later, when you have time to reflect you might want to brainstorm different ways you could have handled the situation. It is only when you have emotion coached yourself will you be able to a successful coach to your child.
Remember it is important for your child to see you “walk the talk”.
A child brought up with Emotion Coaching style of parenting is able to identify his/her feelings, manage them effectively and navigate his/her way through life, relationships and work with a distinct advantage as researched by Dr Gottman. And if this is not going to convince you to be an Emotion Coach to your child then let me go back to the groundbreaking research highlighted by Daniel Goleman’s book in his book Emotional Intelligence (1995, Bloomsbury) which clearly indicated that Emotion Coached children grow up to have higher EQ (Emotional Quotient). And we already know that it is proven fact that EQ is much more important in determining how successful a child will be in her/his life then just IQ. So happy coaching!