Thoughtful Parenting: Emotion coaching

For a long time, our culture believed in a direct connection between high IQ and a life of achievement. But critics became skeptical and questioned whether IQ was too narrow a concept to encompass the scope of our knowledge and abilities.

Recent research indicates that IQ accounts for just 20% of success and the leading determinants for a life of accomplishment are social and emotional intelligence.

Given that our minds are both emotional and rational, this makes sense. The rational mind works logically while the emotional mind tends to be impulsive. Part of emotional intelligence lies in the ability to control the emotional mind from making poor choices.

Many of us are familiar with the Stanford marshmallow experiment, which found that kids who could delay the gratification of a small reward tended to have better life outcomes. This is a great example of controlling the emotional mind and emotional intelligence determining success.

As parents, how do we develop our kids’ emotional intelligence? We emotion coach them. Emotion coaching is the process of labeling our kids’ emotions so they learn to identify what they feel. It includes validating all of our kids’ feelings, even the negative ones.

A critical part of emotion coaching is explaining that all feelings are OK but all behaviors are not. It’s OK to feel angry because your friend ate your cookie, for example, but it’s not OK to hit your friend because he ate your cookie. Emotion coaching helps kids find positive ways to cope with negative feelings.

When your child experiences a problematic situation and challenging emotions, it’s the perfect time to connect. Try to view anger, sadness, jealousy, or guilt as opportunities to relate to your child and teach him healthy ways to manage confusing emotions. Reaching out to your child and accepting what he feels creates intimacy and trust.

After you’ve made the choice to be present with your child, listen carefully. Validate your child’s feelings by putting yourself in his shoes, imagining what the situation must be like for him. Refrain from making judgments even if your child’s feelings are different than yours would be.

Once you understand how your child feels, verbally label his emotions for him. Kids can feel their emotions but may not always know what those emotions are (which can be scary or unsettling). Labeling emotions has a soothing effect on the nervous system and helps kids recover more quickly.

Listen empathically and try to determine if there are underlying messages behind your child’s words. Reflect your child’s message back to him. If possible, share similar examples from your own life to show him his feelings are normal.

Having validated your child’s emotions, work together to problem-solve. Remember that it’s possible to be nonjudgmental about your child’s emotions and set limits for his behavior.

Together, you can talk about your family values and brainstorm reasonable solutions. The ideal time to use emotion coaching is immediately after your child misbehaves and before you establish consequences.

Emotion coaching develops our kids’ emotional intelligence. Higher EQs are associated with healthier physical bodies and healthier relationships. Implementing emotion coaching strategies will help your kids regulate emotions, mitigate conflicts, communicate, and empathize. Emotional intelligence has the power to create life choices that otherwise might not exist.

Deirdre Pepin is the resource development and public relations coordinator for Horizons Specialized Services. For questions about your child’s social emotional development, contact Lindsey Garey, Horizons’ early intervention coordinator, at 970-871-8558.

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