by Kristin Kuiper, MSW, LMSW
“I told him there was nothing to be scared of” says a mom regarding her 5 year old son who’s scared of the dark.
“You don’t need to be embarrassed, just say what you are thinking!” says a father to his 12 year old daughter who is talking to him about a recent encounter with a boy.
“My 7 year old is so angry lately, how do I make it stop?” a recently divorced client asks me.
“I have a stomach ache, I can’t go to school” says a 2nd grader to her mom on the morning of a big test at school.
As adults, it is often difficult to understand what a child is feeling, much less how to help them articulate what they are feeling. It can be challenging to step back into their shoes, recognizing that children are not developmentally able decipher emotions and state their needs as adults are—even adults have a hard time with this! There are many ways that schools are trying to integrate what they are calling “emotional awareness” skills and “emotion coaching” into curriculum. There are also parents who are wondering how to give their children the language and tools necessary to build insight and empathy in their children as well as build a great parent-child bond and partnership. Focusing on academics and intellect is something we find necessary for our children, but building emotional awareness and capacity for having healthy relationships with others is equally as important.
There are five elements to “emotion coaching” that have emerged from research on this topic. They are:
- Be aware of a child's emotions
- Recognize emotional expression as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
- Listen empathetically and validate a child's feelings
- Label emotions in words a child can understand
- Help a child come up with an appropriate way to solve a problem or deal with an upsetting issue or situation
Notice that these steps do not include telling a child to stop feeling something, or diminishing what they are feeling by labeling something that you as a parent find to be more acceptable.
There are a couple of resources I’d like to share with you that I think might be helpful if you are a parent or educator wondering where to begin nurturing emotional intelligence with young children in your life. I’d be curious to hear your reactions and thoughts as you review these resources and also as you put these concepts into action.
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by Dr. John Gottman & Joan Declaire
The Truth about Children and Divorce by Robert Emery PhD (specifically for emotionally coaching children through the effects of divorce)
Step Families by Dr. James H Bray & John Kelly (focuses on how to ease conflicts and build communication in blended families)
Kimochi toys (a communication tool for parents and educators)