John Gottman’s approach to raising an emotionally intelligent child is to become your child’s emotion coach, who values and respects the child’s emotions, does not disapprove negative emotions but sets limits on emotional expressions. The emotion coach helps kids learn to trust their feelings, regulate their emotions, and solve problems. Kids who can regulate their emotions well have high self-esteem, learn well and get along well with others. Gottman suggests the following five steps to become the emotion coach:
The 1st step is to be aware of the child's emotions. Being aware of child’s emotions requires parents to develop a deeper awareness of our own emotions, because if we are not aware of our own emotions, how can we be aware of the child’s emotions? Sometimes emotional awareness may require solitude. Meditation, journal writing, prayer, playing music or drawing may help tap into our own emotions.
The 2nd step is to recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching. A child needs parents most when feeling sad or angry or afraid. The ability to help sooth an upset child is really important for developing intimacy. Also, there is no better way to teach empathy than empathizing with your child. There is no better way to teach understanding than understanding your child's emotions, particularly negative ones.
The 3rd step is to listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings. As you listen to your child in an emotional moment, be aware that sharing simple observations usually works better than probing questions to get a conversation rolling. Sharing examples from your own life can also be an effective way to show your understanding.
The 4th step is to help the child verbally label emotions, because labeling emotions can have a soothing effect on the nervous system. Labeling emotions can help redefine and contain the feeling. You may go further by helping your child keep an emotional log to become more aware of his or her feelings moment by moment. Emotional logs can particularly be helpful for kids who feel scared or anxious about their own emotional responses. The process of labeling an emotion and writing about it can help feelings become more manageable!
The last step is to set limits on inappropriate behavior while helping the child problem-solve. It’s important to note that feelings are not the problem, but misbehavior is! Kids need to develop healthy ways of expressing their negative emotions. When kids experience negative emotions, these are usually great opportunities for parents to help solve problems.