Dr John Gottman’s book What Am I Feeling is a little masterpiece. It helps parents map their parenting style to move from dismissive, disapproving, and laissez-faire styles to the emotional coaching style.
But as we read the following opportunities regarding emotional coaching, there are broader opportunities extending to all our relationships:
1. Be aware of presenting emotions. In your child, in the child (if they’re not your own), in you, and in other adults. We are all emotional beings. There is a child in each one of us. Just because we grow up doesn’t mean we suddenly gain a grasp over all our emotions. Emotional responses are nothing to be ashamed of; but they pique the awareness. Awareness is central to learning. Accepting our emotions is important. Learning to moderate our emotions is about listening to ourselves, becoming aware of our triggers, and planning wise responses for when we’re most vulnerable. Imagine how much more help a child needs in becoming aware of emotional triggers; all the more reason for the patience of grace.
2. Emotions are an opportunity to connect. Connection makes the living world go around. What we most need when we’re vulnerable enough to become emotional is connection — for people to move toward us, or for us to have the courage and humility to know what we need, which is to move toward others. We least want to do that, however. The challenge is to overcome pride. Our moments of vulnerability can be resolved and healed when we embrace our vulnerability. This can take enormous emotional intelligence. Imagine how much more a challenge this can be for a child.
3. Listen with empathy. It takes energy to be interested. If others are emotional, how much better is it for them if we’re interested enough to help. Empathy is shown in listening, in sparing judgment, in resisting quips of advice, in simply showing understanding. ‘That must be horrible… I remember feeling like that once… mmm… it is understandable that you’re feeling this way… but I understand you not wanting to feel this way…’ These may be the only things you say in an hour’s session listening to someone bare their soul. We may find that children can help themselves if they are simply listened to.
4. Help in naming emotions. When we label the emotion, we distance ourselves from the feeling being about us. The truth is we all feel all emotions — they are not us. Nobody is ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ as if that is all they are. But we sometimes feel angry and sad. Children need permission to feel negative emotions like the rest of us do. We all need to know that the emotion doesn’t characterise us.
5. Set limits and find good solutions. Once people are heard they usually don’t have a problem adhering to limits. They also don’t mind looking at ways to solve their problems. Even children in the main are happy to look beyond the problem once they have been truly heard.
Everyone needs permission to feel, and no one can truly be alive without feeling. Indeed, our worst problems surface when we refuse to feel.
**Dr Gottman’s book can be ordered here.