When hearing the word “intelligent”, many parents immediately think of high SAT scores and GPAs. While this type of intelligence is valuable, it’s not the only type that a child will need to navigate the complex world they are faced with. In Dr. John Gottman’s book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, he states there are 5 steps toward “Emotion Coaching”, a method of parenting that can increase a child’s emotional intelligence, creating a stronger bond between parent and child. These steps can help increase physical and emotional health, as well as social competence.
Step 1: Be aware of the child’s emotion.
In order to engage in this step, it’s important to remember that children can’t always use the grown-up words that we use to express how they’re feeling. Listen to your child with an open heart and mind. Try to remember what it was like to be a kid. Entering into your child’s world can increase your sense of empathy and understanding for whatever emotion they’re experiencing.
Step 2: Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching.
Sometimes your child may experience an emotional crisis. This is a great opportunity as a parent to step in and talk, as a crisis often leads to an opportunity. Whether it’s a popped balloon, a low grade or disappointed by a friend, don’t ignore their emotions, hoping they will go away. Talk to your child about what they might be feeling.
Step 3: Listen Empathetically and validate the child’s feelings.
Empathetic listening is more than just understanding the facts of what has happened to your child. You want to listen for your child’s emotions behind the words they are saying, using more than just your ears. Watch for any physical signs, like tears or a frown. You may need to use your imagination to see the situation from your child’s point of view. Sit at your child’s level and take a deep breath. It’s important that no matter how escalated your child becomes, you remain calm and focused.
Step 4: Help the child verbally label emotions.
Help your child identify what they are feeling by providing “feeling words” that can help them in better understanding their experience and realize that these emotions are normal. A parent who sees their child tearing up might say, “You feel sad, don’t you?” Now the child not only feels understood, but also has a word that can be used to describe this overwhelming feeling.
Step 5: Set limits while helping the child problem-solve.
All feelings are acceptable, but not all behaviors are. When kids get upset, they may not always make the best choices. It’s important to set limits on any inappropriate behavior before problem solving. Come up with some possible solutions to your child’s problem together. Ask your child for their ideas and add some of your own, while incorporating your family values in the solution. Guide your child in thinking through which solutions may truly help them with their problem. Once you both have settled on a solution, come up with a concrete plan to try out the solution.
If you feel like you may need help with emotional coaching as a parent or your children may benefit from counseling, please get in touch with a counselor on or main page.