According to John Gottman, one of my all-time favorite researchers, emotion-coaching is the key to raising happy, resilient, and well-adjusted kids. His research—30 years of it—shows that it is not enough to be a warm, engaged, and loving parent. We also need to emotion coach our kids.
Emotion-coached kids tend to experience fewer negative feelings and more positive feelings. The three steps below are adapted from Gottman's book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, which I can't recommend highly enough.
This first step to coping with negative emotions (in yourself, your children, or in your mother-in-law) is to figure out what they are feeling and to accept those feelings. Even if we don't accept the bad behavior that often accompanies negative emotions, we still want to send the message that all feelings are okay, even the worst ones. Terrible feelings like jealousy and fear and greed are invitations to grow, to understand ourselves better and to become a better person. When you see these "undesirable" emotions in children, think of them as opportunities to both learn more about their inner-world and—importantly—to teach them how to deal with negative emotions now and in the future.
Step One: Label and Validate the Feelings-at-Hand
Before we can accurately label and then validate our children's feelings, we need to empathize with them—first to understand what it is they are feeling, and then to communicate what we understand to them. This is simple, but not always easy.
Say Molly is feeling bad because she got into some trouble at school for talking too much in class (no idea where she might have gotten that tendency). Kids frequently displace negative emotions onto their loving parents and caregivers, meaning that while Molly might be mad at herself, a classmate, or her teacher, it would be normal for her to displace that emotion onto me when she got home. So when I tell her she can't have a playdate with Claire right that second, it provokes an angry fury, during which she throws her backpack against the wall I've asked her to hang it on and calls her sister a "stupid idiot" she would never want to play with "in a million years."
Instead of dealing with the bad behavior right away (time out!) this is a terrific opportunity to accomplish the first step in emotion-coaching: validating and labeling the negative emotions.
Me: "Molly, I can see that you are very angry and frustrated. Is there anything else that you are feeling?"
Molly: "I am SO SO SO MAD AT YOU."
Me: "You are mad at me, VERY mad at me. Are you also feeling disappointed because I won't let you have a playdate right now?"
Molly: "YES!! I want to have a playdate right NOW."
Me: "You seem sad." (Crawling into my lap, Molly whimpers a little and rests her head on my shoulder.)
I've now helped Molly identify and label several feelings: angry, frustrated, disappointed, sad. The larger our children's emotion vocabulary is, the easier it is to label emotions in the heat of the moment. I have also validated how Molly has been feeling: she knows I think it is okay to have felt all those "bad" things. Interestingly, now she is calm, tired—clearly needing a snack and a cuddle.
Step Two: Deal with the Bad Behavior (if applicable)
At this point, I just want to move on and forget about the back-pack throwing and name calling. But it is very important to set limits so that kids learn how to behave well even in the face of strong, negative emotions. I tell her that she needs to go to her room and have a 5 minute time-out, and I make it clear that these behaviors are not okay: "It is okay to feel angry and frustrated, but it is never okay to throw things or call people mean names. When the timer goes off, please apologize to your sister and come have a snack." Ten minutes after the initial incident, I am sitting with Molly while she eats. Time for step three.
Step Three: Problem Solve
Now is the time to dig a little deeper, to help Molly figure out how to handle the situation better in the future. After we've labeled and validated the emotions arising out of the problem, we can turn to the problem itself: "Molly, did anything happen at school today that is also making you feel bad?" At this point, Molly told me all about the scene at school where she had to sit at a table by herself because she was too disruptive during reading. I relate to how bad it would feel for my hyper-social and teacher-pleasing child to be both isolated from her friends and to have disappointed her teacher, so it was easy for me to empathize here. We talked about how sad and lonely she felt doing her work alone when the other kids were working together, and how embarrassed she felt by being singled out. We also talk about how she felt hungry and exhausted when she came home from school.
I did not tell her how she ought to feel ("Molly, I hope you feel bad for throwing your backpack against the wall") because that would make her distrust what she did feel (the backpack-throwing might well have felt good). The goal is to put her in touch with her emotions, good or bad. So even during the problem solving, I was labeling and validating more of her feelings: lonely, embarrassed, hungry, tired.
Next, brainstorm together possible ways to solve a problem or prevent it from happening again. The more we parents can stay in our role as a coach—holding back all of our terrific (bossy!) ideas and letting kids come up with their own—the better. When we talk about what Molly can do when she feels angry (instead of throwing her backpack, for example), she is more likely to actually try the solutions if they come from her. She decides the next time she comes home from school feeling frustrated and disappointed, she'll walk the dog around the block while she eats her snack until she feels better.
That's all there is to it! First, label and validate the emotions you see. Second, deal with misbehavior if you need to. Finally, help your child solve the problem.
You are now a bona-fide emotion-coach.
Let us know how emotion coaching works for you! What situations did it help with? Do you have questions? Post a comment below!
© 2009 Christine Carter, Ph.D.
Join the Campaign for 100,000 Happier Parents by signing this simple pledge.
Become a fan of Raising Happiness on Facebook.
Follow Christine Carter on Twitter
Subscribe to the Happiness Matters Podcast on iTunes.
First, I have to say I absolutely adore your blog. I get very excited to see what wonderful information you have in store for me every time a post pops up in my RSS Feed.
My question is, at what age do you start seeing success with emotion coaching? I feel like (most of the time) I try to do these steps, but I’m lucky if I can even get my daughter to calm down enough to listen. And once I’ve validated, but then move on to step two, she hits hysterics again. But, then, she’s only 3 and 1/2… she’ll be 4 in June. I’m assuming at some point things will click for her, but it’s hard to see the light at the end of the emotional outburst tunnel.
Karli | 10:15 pm, March 19, 2009 | Link
I try to do this with my seven year old and she gets annoyed at step one and doesn’t want me to talk to her, so usually she goes (runs) to her room and comes out after a few moments and then we can get through step two but moving on to step three she usually shuts down and won’t problem solve http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/wp-includes/images/smilies/icon_sad.gif
Natasha | 10:19 am, March 20, 2009 | Link
I think you’ve described the process well… but for my son (and, based on some research I’ve read lately, perhaps for many boys), there’s a bit of a glitch in that process: there needs to be a nice long “cooling-off” pause between the expression of the feeling on his part, and the identification of it by me. If I try to do exactly as you say, the conversation with my son will go something like this:
Me: “Son, I can see that you are very angry and frustrated. Is there anything else that you are feeling?”
Son: “I AM NOT ANGRY!!! I AM NOT FRUSTRATED!!!” (said at the top of his voice while glaring at me in such a way that if looks could kill, I’d be dead).
Me: “What is it you are feeling?”
Son: I AM HAPPY!!!” (said while red in the face and wild-eyed).
On the other hand, if I very calmly ask him to go sit on the couch, leave him there alone for about 2 minutes to calm down, and then go talk to him, the conversation will look more like:
Me: “It seemed like you were a little angry when you came in a minute ago.” (understatement is a good thing here)
Me: “You also seem a bit sad…”
Son (crawls into my lap)
And the rest of it can go on as you described.
The trick for us is that although I am using a time-out here, and may even call it a time-out, it’s mostly designed to remove him from the situation long enough to get him calm enough that he won’t fight against anything and everything I do. At the beginning of the conversation, he’s so angry and negative that he will deny wanting ice cream if I’m the one to suggest it.
Karen | 11:37 am, March 20, 2009 | Link
What a GREAT posting, Dr. Carter. I can’t tell you how often I hear myself, my husband, and other parents tell their kids dismissively “C’mon, it’s just not that big of a deal” when something makes their child angry or sad. Your posting reminds me that while we, as adults seeing the Big Universal Picture, know that something really isn’t a big deal, small slights or events truly are “earth-shattering” to the child or teenager experiencing them. Better to validate and empathize with our children when they are worried or upset than to give them a real reason to say “You just don’t understand!”
Tracy Clements | 12:00 pm, March 20, 2009 | Link
Hi Christine and thanks for your wonderful work!
One thing we at Hand in Hand add to the approach you describe above comes before Step One. The first thing we teach parents to do in a case like this is stop what we are doing, connect with our child and really pay attention and listen to what it is the child is feeling and be a safe haven for the expression of those emotions. Hand in Hand helps parents remember that our children want good relationships with us and all feelings are acceptable, even if all behavior is not. Once a child–or anyone–has the chance to let off the emotional tension he/she is experiencing, he/she is much better able to listen and learn whatever it is you’d like to communicate to them about the experience.
Julianne Idleman | 1:17 pm, March 20, 2009 | Link
I love this website and I love that you are bringing the work of parenting into the forefront, as just that…work, and a job that is hard, important, and rewarding.
I have become very involved in an organization called Hand in Hand Parenting in Palo Alto that is doing incredible work in building the parent child relationship so that life goes better for children and parents. The approach is called “Parenting By Connection” The Executive Director, Patty Wipfler has been doing this for over 20 years and her work has transformed many situations in my life being a mother of a 4 year old and 7 year old. This emotion coaching is fantastic and her approach even goes a bit further.
Here’s the description of the approach:
Two articles that I love:
I’ll keep reading!
Best to you,
Emily | 2:19 pm, March 20, 2009 | Link
Emotion coaching is a fine idea. But don’t forget that hundreds of millions of children have been raised without it and they turned out just fine.
I suggest that Greater Good focus on reducing parenting that devastates the lives of children and adults. Toxic parenting behaviors and practices are generally recognized as disrupting the healthy physical, emotional, and intellectual development of children, yet they are still commonplace.
For example: Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Chemically impaired parents are a source of embarrassment, shame, stress, and violence for children.
Don’t ever tell your child that he or she is stupid, ugly, good-for-nothing, worthless, etc.
Don’t physically, emotionally, sexually, verbally, or psychologically abuse your child.
Don’t “label” your children…the good one, the wild one, the talented one, the smart one, the lazy one, etc.
Don’t make derogatory remarks about your child to other people in their presence.
Don’t fight or argue with your spouse in front of the children if it’s the kind of thing that would frighten the average child.
Don’t hold one sibling up as an example to another. In other words, don’t say, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”
Along the same lines, never draw comparisons between your child and another family member who may be a poor role model. In other words, never say, “You’re just like your no-good jailbird dad.”
Don’t excuse or make excuses for your child’s bad behavior.
Do not threaten punishments you are unwilling or incapable of carrying out.
Do not fail to carry out a punishment when it’s called for.
Don’t bribe your child in order to elicit good behavior.
Ignore your child if he or she throws a tantrum.
Do let your children experience the logical consequences of their actions if it’s safe.
I hesitate to call emotion coaching “parenting fluff”, but there are so many more important parenting issues that need Greater Good’s attention.
David | 9:48 am, March 21, 2009 | Link
Half Full readers,
Do you agree with David that this is “parenting fluff”? That you should ignore your children when they are very upset (tantruming)?
We have loads of scientific research that shows that teaching kids to understand and cope with their negative emotions is critical for their well-being.
David, you are always calling for the Greater Good Science Center to be doing something different than what we are committed to. I suggest you check out our strategic plan (in the science section of the website). The plan is under revision right now, but our vision and mission remain the same. It was created by a very thoughtful and intelligent group of people here at UC Berkeley.
Christine Carter | 11:13 am, March 23, 2009 | Link
I don’t agree with David. Of course I think we shouldn’t be doing any of the things he lists — I think that, in your work, that goes without saying. But I also don’t think it’s good enough to simply stop doing a bad job. Why not work toward doing a better job?
In fact, one of the parenting strategies we are often told about is that, rather than simply tell our kids not to do something, we tell them to do something else (i.e. rather than “don’t throw your pajamas on the floor” we say “please put your pajamas in the laundry.”). So, why not do the same things with ourselves? Replace ineffective behaviors (name calling, comparing kids to others…) with effective behaviors (emotion coaching)?
It may be necessary (as with my son) to “ignore” a kid for a bit while he/she is extremely upset; the idea is to give them the opportunity to calm down. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t communicate with them when they are able to communicate.
Karen | 11:46 am, March 23, 2009 | Link
I agree — and I LOVE the example you give above about letting your son calm down before doing any emotion coaching…
Christine Carter | 12:03 pm, March 23, 2009 | Link
I do not agree with David that this is “fluff”. It is true, there are many parenting issues that need to be adressed but The Greater Good has a specific focus and a specific audience (most likely unintentionally in terms of the audience). But to switch gears and start blogging about how to not abuse your children would be like preaching to the choir!
Natasha | 12:12 pm, March 23, 2009 | Link
I have a question on another topic — electronic games and luxury cell phones. We rarely allow electronic game-playing, and in our family we all have cell phones that are at least a year old. Before and after school, this is the first thing my 5th grade son talks about every single day, and this started two years ago. How can I live with this?
Thank you -
Jeanette | 4:18 pm, March 23, 2009 | Link
Great question. I talk about this on the “How much screen time is too much?” post:
I also did a video on screen time that gives a little more information, here:
Christine Carter | 4:28 pm, March 23, 2009 | Link
Great question about age and emotion coaching. Emotional intelligence develops most rapidly from birth to age 10 (and continues to develop throughout our entire lifetime). Signs of success in building emotional literacy change with age:
– a baby who smiles back when you smile at her
– a 1-year-old who expresses emotions to communicate basic needs, like crying to indicate he has a wet diaper
–a 2-year old who communicates needs with both emotions and body language
–a 3-year old who tries to share her feelings with you verbally
etc. If you are identifying and validating your daughter’s emotions, you are teaching her something. As you practice with her, the hysterics should die down faster. You’ll also become more attuned to her emotions, and perhaps able to preempt some of her meltdowns by helping her identify what she is feeling before her emotions get so big. But you are right to adjust your expectations to account for her age. There is a light at the end of the emotional outburst tunnel — but it doesn’t mean that there will no longer be emotional outbursts! http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/wp-includes/images/smilies/icon_smile.gif Keep practicing.
Christine Carter | 12:11 pm, March 24, 2009 | Link
I have some empathy for David, because the structure of the information doesn’t translate well for him. It’s not even a matter of fluff/not-fluff, IMHO. It’s a matter of translating functional information. David is not a process-oriented individual, he’s an outcomes-oriented individual. Without being able to connect the dots to the outcomes, it becomes very hard to see the relevance of a post like this. Which doesn’t mean that the two are not related – what David is asking for is, IMHO, mostly here in this very post, it is just assumed that the readers will be able to extrapolate to it or intuit it.
So, David, speaking to you (as well as trying to highlight how this may function for other readers): There are a lot of do/don’t issues listed in your comment that are barriers to good parenting. However, doing the process of things like emotion coaching also helps prevent all of those issues, because you *will* get a reaction from, say, badmouthing your child in front of others that if you coach through will highlight exactly why that was a bad idea, parenting-wise. If you follow the emotion coaching process, you will find out about that, quite clearly. Beyond that, you’ll find out about what flavor of it was a problem, and whether there was a range or context or other subtle issue that played a role, for your child, in that situation.
For example, I do not badmouth my kids in front of others. I do, however, TALK about my kids in front of others. Positively, and dealing with skills rather than talent (more ‘he’s working really hard on his schoolwork’ than ‘he’s really smart’) and without comparing, labeling, yadda yadda – it’s more story-telling, with emotions (“I’m really proud of how hard Mr B is working on his riding lessons. I could see how much he’d improved from last week. His teacher said she was really pleased with his progress, and she’s sure he’ll do really well in group lessons in the Fall.”). Seems to not be a major issue, right? Only, one day I got a tantrum rage from one of my (4 year old) twin daughters. Following along the reflective listening process (accept the feeling, label it, etc.), we discovered that she felt it was a violation of her self/identity to have me talk about her to others. She felt that as a discomfort, a boundary violation, awful. She wanted more privacy than I was giving around her life. That, IMHO, is totally valid. So by doing the emotion coaching process, I ended up finding a boundary line that had similar consequences for her to what ‘badmouthing’ might cause for other kids. If I just followed lock-step down the do/do not list, I’d miss the mark entirely, for her.
I think more the point, perhaps, is that different personality types thrive with different frames and methods for addressing a goal or skill. For some, a checklist prevention program makes more sense than a fluid discovery process. So the approach of ‘follow this process’ doesn’t compute very well. I work with a lot of people who have the same strengths and skills (and therefore preferences) that it seems you (David) have, and this kind of process drives them nuts – the results are not clearly outlined, it isn’t concrete enough in how it solves ‘all those other problems’, the boundary lines are not clear enough, there are not enough boundary lines to identify if it is working ‘right’, it feels ‘squishy’ and ‘vague’, etc. (hence ‘fluff’ if I don’t miss my guess)
So. Now what? If we take David’s list, and break it out, here, see how the same process looks from the other personality/process side… (sorry this is long, I’m thinking problem-solving method for parents who are more like David):
Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Chemically impaired parents are a source of embarrassment, shame, stress, and violence for children. :: Maintain your own emotional function as a baseline for ensuring you don’t require your children to pick up your emotional burdens. Learning emotion coaching may help you highlight where you have trouble with a particular emotion, because you’ll see yourself unable to accept it in the child, or will struggle to stay with the process whenever that emotion arises. Consider seeking professional help if you find that a particular emotional range creates crisis reactions in you as a parent (including chemical dependency or addiction to self-medicate around those emotions), or if you find yourself unable to identify or relate to certain feelings. Having a healthy baseline for yourself is important to being able to coach emotions in your child as well.
Don’t ever tell your child that he or she is stupid, ugly, good-for-nothing, worthless, etc. :: The process of emotion coaching requires that we practice being empathetic with our child. Practicing empathy will make it very hard to be verbally abusive. If you find yourself as a parent expressing ‘at’ your child in the manner above, it may be that you need someone to do emotion coaching with you, as well. Therapeutic process helps (counseling, therapy), and you can also follow the same script with yourself, speaking to yourself. ((I do this as a modeling process with my kids, so they can see that the same approach works as self-talk as well – so even if I am not there to coach and problem solve, they can follow the steps on their own. So I may react angrily, recognize (out loud) that I’m reacting, and then give myself a ‘time out’ to calm down, and follow that with reflecting why I reacted that way, and how to help myself manage my process better the next time. My kids get to watch me do it ‘on me’, which gives them a different perspective of how it functions ‘with them’, too.))
Don’t physically, emotionally, sexually, verbally, or psychologically abuse your child. :: Same as above – if you are practicing empathy as an ongoing part of the emotion coaching process with your child, abuse will become increasingly obvious and hard to reconcile with the coaching process.
Don’t “label” your children…the good one, the wild one, the talented one, the smart one, the lazy one, etc.:: See above. Labeling is a specific habit to watch for, but talking out what caused an emotional reaction in a situation is quite likely to spot labeling as a negative experience, even when it is a positive label.
Don’t make derogatory remarks about your child to other people in their presence.:: See above.
Don’t fight or argue with your spouse in front of the children if it’s the kind of thing that would frighten the average child.:: I’d disagree with this one as a specific ‘rule’ because it is dependent on how you fight, and again, following the coaching process with your child will identify if there are things that happen that aren’t working for the child, too. My parents taught me how to ‘fight fair’ and how to resolve conflict BY fighting in front of me, skillfully and appropriately. And they still checked in with me to see if it caused me undue stress.
Don’t hold one sibling up as an example to another. In other words, don’t say, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”:: See all of the above.
Along the same lines, never draw comparisons between your child and another family member who may be a poor role model. In other words, never say, “You’re just like your no-good jailbird dad.” :: See all of the above.
Don’t excuse or make excuses for your child’s bad behavior.:: Ah, and this one, also. See the step where limits are set and consequences apply in the coaching process? There’s no excusing there. We do not X. It is not safe or respectful to Y. Please come back and apologize to your sister. Etc. Not excusing is a major step here. Responsibility for one’s actions is required. Heck, I have a child who has a digestive disorder that throws his serotonin levels out of whack if he eats the wrong thing, and this process STILL applies – he may be unable to function normally, but he also knows that he is still RESPONSIBLE. I will help, guide, support, etc., but he is still responsible for the consequences of his behavior. The digestive disorder is a reason, but not an excuse, and guess who (of my kids) is the most attuned to the emotional coaching process and the most willing to watch for and attend to what is going on with others? Same kid – he’s had a lot of practice. It makes for a great deal of skill and ease with his emotions, and with the emotions of others.
Do not threaten punishments you are unwilling or incapable of carrying out.:: I find that if I follow the coaching process, I’m already empathetic and have a reasonable sense of what’s going on with my child, so that punishments (or consequences, if you like) are already attuned to the situation. No reason to back off on them. I’m already engaged, so no reason to try to parent ‘from across the room’ (where big empty threats usually come in, IMHO). Again, now that the process is engaged, this stops being a concern.
Do not fail to carry out a punishment when it’s called for.:: See the step on consequences above – it’s embedded in the process. Understanding that the entire thing is a process, and not just random events that occur without context is important.
Don’t bribe your child in order to elicit good behavior.:: Fine line for me, here – if I smile, and my child likes to see me smile, is that a bribe? This one is likely to be in one of the other topics here, though. Might not be related to the emotion coaching, though likely if you’re already problem-solving conflicts, bribery isn’t needed anyway.
Ignore your child if he or she throws a tantrum.:: Unless ignoring is the worst possible thing you could do for that particular child (say, the child is terrified of being alone, and ignoring feels ‘alone’ and therefore becomes inhumane and abusive treatment). Absolute lines are not useful, IMHO – a process of discovery that gets to the bottom of the situation and develops skill and function is, IME, much more effective than a cookie-cutter approach. I have three kids who are fine if I decline to respond to tantrums after acknowledging the situation/feelings/etc., and one who panics and becomes frantic if I disengage. Should they all be treated the same? I don’t think so.
Do let your children experience the logical consequences of their actions if it’s safe.:: This is addressed in other topics here, as well, I’m pretty sure. There’s some really interesting research on consequences that make them somewhat iffy even with the logical ones – certainly if applied religiously, the results can be a major backfire. Problem-solving and skills-building prevent more down the road than consequences, as far as I’m aware (research-wise).
Anyway, I think you can see the point – a lot of what you (David) are seeking is embedded in the process of coaching, but it isn’t specified as an obvious outcome in a checklist manner. If you are coming at it from the ‘checklist’ model of life, it may not make logical sense right off – it is only by practicing it that it starts showing how broadly it embeds in the other issues you state.
However, I’m not saying that everyone should be able to spot that truth from the outset – many people do not ‘work’ that way. There may be a way to present the same information in a way that translates better to people who come from that personality type perspective. That might help solve the ‘I want a list of rules of parenting behavior’ style/approach mismatch. Hmm. Not sure how to do that, but it’s just my thought.
Sorry for the book-length comment – my job is translating between cultures and personalities, every day. I hope both sides can maybe see where the disconnect was, more clearly?
hedra | 11:38 am, March 31, 2009 | Link
Thanks for the comment, Hedra! If you’re interested in learning more about constructive ways to handle conflict, see this post on “How to Fight”:
And to address your bribery point, I just blogged about this issue this afternoon. Go here:
Christine Carter | 5:41 pm, April 16, 2009 | Link
Good information with an excellent interactive vignette example!
You state here and in other articles that information shared is based on research. Please be so kind as to cite the research for my further reading. Thank you!
Liz | 7:05 pm, April 16, 2009 | Link
The references for this topic are listed here: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/goodwiki/index.php/Emotional_Literacy#References
I highly recommend the Gottman and Healy books. You can find links to them here as well: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/tools-books.html#intro
Christine Carter | 12:27 pm, April 17, 2009 | Link
My favorite book for children about emotions is Barefoot Book’s Emily’s Tiger – about anger management. For 4-8 year olds. Thanks for asking…
Paula English | 10:09 am, May 1, 2009 | Link
I truly enjoy your blog. I stumbled upon it today – truthfully don’t even remember how – but the universe is clearly on my side! Very nice surprise and nice to really dig around and see that your insight and offering of usable info really follows through every blog. My son is on the Autism Spectrum – really unidentified absolutely in terms of where exactly he falls, but he is high functioning. With that said, you can imagine all the various disciplinary actions and efforts I’ve had to make to find something that worked for him on a consistant basis. I can’t be certain that it’s because he’s older now (12) or that the technique is working..but I do let him calm down after an outburst and and remove myself from the immediate area. Once he’s calmed down he searches me out and we get back to where ever we were before the outburst. It’s only at that time that I can ask him ‘what’s up?’ and get any kind of honest response from him other then what I want to hear.
I believe this technique is working for two reasons, his outbursts are so far apart at this point that he’s bordering on ‘typical’ if you will in his reactions and he’s also learning – well it appears that he’s learning- to handle a stressful situation in a much more acceptable fashion.
This past week he broke a glass in a cabinet door. He didn’t hit it hard enough to really break it, but the glass being old..well, it gave way…just enough to crack all over the place, but not fall out. He was with his godmother at the time and she remained calm. Rather than he getting totally out of control, he ran from the room, sat on the steps and calmed himself. When I arrived to pick him up (after being briefed by his godmother) he opened the door, invited me to take a seat and then said he had something to tell me. He proceeded to explain what happened, what he was feeling and then the broken glass. I listened quietly. When he finished I thanked him for telling me and for handling himself in a calm fashion. Then I let him know the allowanced he’d been saving since the first of the year would have to go toward the replacement of the glass. He shook his head silently. Then I told him that he would lose the very items that he got angry over. He shook his head quietly. I took out the envelope and asked him to count the money so he had a real sense of what his actions had cost him. He did so. At the end of this very calm exchange, he looked at me and said, “I love you mom.”
I knew at that moment that he’d learned what the consequences of his actions can do. And hoped now that he will remember to keep his arms and legs to himself next time. But what most touched my heart was that he was so honest standing up for his behavior and earnest in accepting the consequences without argument or another meltdown. I thanked him for handling himself so bravely and ‘grown up’ in the aftermath of the situation. He just shook his head.
I’m looking forward to sharing your site with his godmother and to reading more of your blogs. I think there is a lot to learn from you.
Jane | 4:59 pm, August 7, 2009 | Link
What if I get stuck at dealing with the misbehavior? If I tell my 6 year old daughter to go sit in her room for 5 minutes in time out she will just tell me ‘no’. What do I do then?
Maham | 1:05 am, August 13, 2009 | Link
I can sympathize with Natasha. This is what had been happening to me with my now 8 year old since she was 5. (A long time for a mom to feel stressed and disconnected!) Things only got worse over time. She developed a detector for “the voice” and I couldn’t talk to her about anything thoughtful….rarely would she share with me. Now I’ve done a lot of self-exploration and thought up lots of ways I might have inadvertently helped bring this state on, but feeling guilty doesn’t solve the immediate problem. I needed a way to bridge to my daughter, who seemed to be becoming more distant with each passing quarter. And I was getting a bit frantic about finding a solution before my “acting like a sullen teenager” 6…7…8 year old actually became one. We reached the point where my now-reading-books-enthusiastically eight-year-old would come home, dig into a book immediately, shut herself in her room, and respond in an IRATE manner if I so much as called her name to get her attention. (“WHAT!???”) Asking her to do a routing chore – emptying her lunch box or setting the table got no positive response either. Cancelling privileges (we even took away all her books at one point) had only grudging and short-lived success. (e.g. she started borrowing books from friends and “sneaking” them) Recently I went to a workshop preview for a workshop called “Say What You See” by Sandra Blackard. She offered a very simple strategy which might be considered just a slightly different presentation of emotion coaching in many ways, but I got a much better response from my child. Interestingly enough it begins as the Hand in Hand folks suggest with connection. (What I knew had nearly evaporated in my relationship with my child.)
Step one (SAY WHAT YOU SEE) is to describe what you see, looking at it from the child’s perspective. (e.g. Wow, you are really loving that book!)
When I first tried this I was amazed. My daughter actually lowered her book and looked at me. (Her previous strategy had been to raise the book higher to totally obscure her face.) I then asked her to set the table, and she did!
Step 2 (If they are doing something you don’t like)is to give a CAN DO. (a when, what or where)e.g. You can read some more after you set the table. OR You feel like hitting. You CAN hit this.
Step 3 Is done later…when the child is calm: tell the child about one positive quality you saw them exhibit (pick it out of whatever negative other stuff was going on and only mention the positive.) e.g. You showed self control when you put down the book to come and set the table. You didn’t want to do it, but you did it anyway, because you knew we needed the table set to eat..even if the child screamed rudely at you and threw the book down you are looking for the positive in it here. [note- in my case the child didn’t do that this time, she calmly came to set the table, but I have plenty of other negative examples to work on]
That’s just the synopsis – I’m not the one to elaborate – but Sandy has posted a description of the entire method in a booklet you can read in full or purchase on the Language of Listening web site. http://www.languageoflistening.com
I’m only a beginner, (I haven’t taken the full course yet) but so far I like what I see- and it’s simple enough for me to remember! I think this might be possible to interweave with the emotion coaching process to great result.
1. Begin with the SWYS to connect
2. ID the emotion
3. Can do’s for the heat of the moment = setting limits if needed.
4. Highlight (to cultivate) positive traits
5. Problem solve/Brainstorm (or 5, then 4)
Julia | 11:57 pm, September 28, 2009 | Link
Julia, your post was very helpful! I love the “what you can do…”
Natasha | 11:23 am, October 3, 2009 | Link
great article Christine!
I do agree with the Hand in Hand folks that establishing a connection first (“collecting your child” in Gordon Neufeld’s language) is key. Do this with no agenda – just connection. When the childs nervous system begins to smooth out THEN we can start with labeling and teaching. One of the things that i see with many parents these days is that everything becomes a “teaching point” and the kids start to resent it.
I would also suggest that we as parents take these opportunities to reflect on our own emotional life and learn from them. Feel what the particular emotion feels like in our bodies, and what it makes us want. From a few seconds of feeling our child’s state directly we will be much more able to empathize and naturally respond in a way that is loving and effective.
There is plenty for us to learn here. We don’t always have to be teaching and coaching. We can continue our own self-learning and model emotional intelligence with great results.
All said, i always learn alot from your posts. thankyou
chris white | 8:51 pm, November 14, 2009 | Link
I too really like this website/blog but sometimes the dialogue’s remind me strongly of James Thurber’s Let Your Mind Alone parody of self-help books in which the scripted dialogues would always end in total success for the prescribed method. If I say to my daughter, ‘You seem sad/angry’ at least half the time she will say ‘no I’m NOT!’ (in a furious manner)
And if I say, ‘You seem sad that we can’t have someone round to play’ She’ll say ‘Yes I AM! I am very sad and very cross and I want them round NOW! Waaaaah!’ and generally get worse and not better.
She doesn’t always seem to have learned her half of the script.
I have the same problem with ‘talk so kids will listen’, which has a similar scripted format.
Emily | 7:01 am, November 20, 2009 | Link
‘no I’m NOT!’ (in a furious manner)
‘Yes I AM! I am very sad and very cross and I want them round NOW! Waaaaah!’
Do you allow your childen to speak to you this way?
David | 6:48 pm, November 20, 2009 | Link
“allow”? David, do you have children?
Natasha | 11:29 pm, November 20, 2009 | Link
Gosh David, I am sure you cannot be half as annoying and smug in real life as you are in your online persona. But if you are, I’m sure you find much consolation in your eerily perfect kids. In fact, I cannot imagine for the life of me why you’d read any of this completely superfluous advice, what with you being so marvellous without it.
Emily | 8:13 am, November 21, 2009 | Link
I have two…Devon and Kyle. They’re both grown.
David | 11:17 am, November 21, 2009 | Link
Eek! I am far more embarrassed by the rogue apostrophe in my first post than I am by any of my kids.
Emily | 12:33 pm, November 21, 2009 | Link
Page 1 of 2 pages 1 2 >blog comments powered by Disqus