This is a summary of an article written by Christine Carter, Ph.D about better relating to your children when they display undesirable behaviors and emotions.
It’s not enough to be a warm and engaging parent, we also need to “emotion coach” our children.
The first step to dealing with negative emotions is to evaluate those feelings and accept them without judgement.
When spotting negative emotions in your kids, consider them opportunities to connect with your child and also to teach them how to further deal with such emotions in the future.
As a parent, the first thing you need to be willing to do is demonstrate that you understand what your child is feeling and to convey to them that they are understood. This will allow them to feel comfortable to open up to you in their vulnerable state.
The 3 Steps to Emotion Coaching
Step 1: Label and Validate
Instead of jumping into disciplinary action, when your child displays negative emotions you should think of the instance as an opportunity to label the undesirable emotion so that your child can begin to identify the emotion, giving them context to their feelings.
Descriptively labeling your child’s emotion will help him or her label them in the future if they arise again. This practice allows your child to understand the wide array of feelings being experienced – increasing their “emotion vocabulary.”
Furthermore, labeling the negative emotion and reiterating to your child that you understand they are feeling a certain way (and yet you still accept them) can often have a calming effect.
Step 2: Address the Bad Behavior
If your child’s negative emotions translated into bad behavior, it’s important to address the behavior you deem unacceptable.
Let him or her know that you understand how they are feeling, and that it’s acceptable to feel these emotions – but that acting out in the midst of such feelings is not okay.
Be specific regarding their “bad behavior,” and let them know clearly that that kind of reaction is not the right way to deal with the situation, even in the heat of the moment.
Step 3: Brainstorm and Solve
After you’ve “labeled and validated” the negative emotions, look at the broader situation and try to discover what the root causes of the emotions were.
Whatever your child tells you, create for yourself some space to be nonjudgmental, to empathize with what triggered them in the first place. And then proceed to discuss how it must have felt for him or her while experiencing whatever set them off.
Don’t immediately dictate how you think “she ought to feel because that would make her distrust what she did feel.”
Instead, label the different emotions and feelings your child felt, so she’s aware of her behavior and has context to reflect upon when the feelings occur again.
Finally, sit with your child and discuss possible ways to solve or prevent problems from occurring 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.”
In short, “…First, label and validate the emotions you see. Second, deal with misbehavior if you need to. Finally, help your child solve the problem.”
You can read the full article here as well as Christine’s real-life example of dealing with her daughter.