My kids tend to overreact and dramatize everything that comes their way. How do I teach them to be more balanced and cope better with life?
When we talk about wanting our kids to be emotionally regulated, we usually think we need to teach them how to control themselves better. A more effective approach is “emotion coaching”. Emotion coaching involves trying to understand the emotional source of your child’s behavior.
According to Dr. John Gottman, who conducted extensive research on this topic, the emotion-coach parent is aware of the child’s emotions. The parent:
recognizes emotions as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
listens empathetically and validates the child’s feelings
helps the child verbally label emotions
sets limits while helping the child problem-solve.
Emotion Coaching: Observe their behavior and value your child’s feelings
In order to do so, the parent must separate the feeling from the behavior. Not all behaviors are justifiable or acceptable; however, all feelings are, as they flit through us unwittingly. The goal is to convey to the child that what he or she feels is ok, but that does not legitimize every resulting behavior.
When we are dismissive or disapproving of our children’s feelings, we teach them that there is something wrong with their feelings, and thus with them for feeling that way. On the opposite extreme, when we are over-permissive and don’t set boundaries around emotional expression, our children don’t learn how to regulate themselves and are often insecure in their relationships. In both cases, we are creating overly dramatic or reactionary children.
An example of an emotion coaching response would be: “Honey, you really want me to buy you that toy. It looks like you really like it. It would be so nice to be able to buy it. What would that feel like? I’m sorry, but I can’t get that for you right now. Is that hard for you to hear? You wish you could have it. I know, that’s upsetting. Sometimes we want things really badly, and it’s hard to accept that we can’t have them.”
Rivkah Weiss, MSW, Family Therapist
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