It’s natural for children to express their emotions. How you react to those
emotions, in that moment, can help determine whether or not your child will
learn to handle her emotions in a healthy way. Psychologist, Dr. Liz Hale, has
five responses that will increase your child’s emotional intelligence.
If you want to be a good and effective parent, know this: Love is not enough!
A longitudinal study emerged from examining the strength of the emotional
bonds between parents and children in a very detailed laboratory setting out
of the University of Washington, under the direction of Dr. John Gottman.
Emerging from this research was a group of successful children whose
parents did five very simple and natural things when their children were
emotional. The outcome of children who had experienced this type of
“emotional coaching” from their parents were on an entirely different
development trajectory than the children of other parents.
The Emotion-Coaching parents had children who later became what Daniel
Goldman calls “emotionally intelligent” people. Emotionally coached children
are able to regulate their own emotional states; and, they are better at
soothing themselves and calming a racing heart when upset. Because of the
superior performance in calming their physiology, children who received
emotional coaching from their parents also reported fewer infectious
illnesses. They were better at focusing attention. They related better to other
people, even in the tough social situations like teasing. They were better at
understanding people. They had better friendships with other children. They
also performed better academically.
When parents offer children honest empathy and help them cope with
negative feelings like anger, sadness, and fear, parents build bridges of
loyalty and affection. Compliance, obedience and responsibility come from a
sense of love and connectedness children feel in their home. Emotional
interactions among family members become the foundation for instilling
values and raising moral people. Children behave according to family
standards because they understand with their hearts that good behavior is
expected; that living right is all part of belonging to our family.
There is a key cornerstone to emotion coaching: Empathy. Imagine growing
up in a home, (and some of us did), where your parents expected you to
always be cheerful, happy and calm. In this home, sadness and anger are
wrong and seen as signs of failure. Mom and Dad get anxious anytime you’re
in one of your “dark moods.” They tell you that they prefer you to be
optimistic; “look on the bright side,” never complain, forget yourself, never
speak ill of anyone or anything. Since you want to please your parents you do
your best to live up to their expectations.
So, at dinner, your dad asks, “How was school today?”
Your response? “Fine.”
Relieved, he says, “Good, good….Pass the butter.”
What are the dangers of growing up in make-believe home? First, you learn
that you are not like your parents; they don’t seem to have any of the bad
and dangerous feelings that you do. You learn that because you have the
feelings, you’re the problem. You learn that it doesn’t make sense to talk to
your parents about your true inner life. And that makes you lonely. You also
learn that as long as you feign cheerfulness, everyone gets along just fine.
This gets complicated, especially as you age and you discover that life is not
easy. Still, you’re not supposed to feel all those bad feelings. So you become
a master at covering up. Better yet, you do your best not to feel. You avoid
situations that lead to conflict, anger and pain. You avoid intimate human
5 Healthy Responses to Children’s (and others’!) Natural Emotions
1) Recognize the Emotion
2) Increase Intimacy with Emotion
3) Listen for & Validate Emotion
4) Label Emotion
5) Set Limits with Emotion
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5
Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your
thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.