How to use ‘Emotion Coaching’ or ‘reflective listening’ to help a child in the moment of meltdown get back to feeling calm. The most effective thing parents can do is listen and show real empathy and understanding.
What can parents do when a child is struggling with a difficult emotion?
All behaviour is a form of communication. How can parents really get under the surface to understand the emotions and feelings that are driving their child’s behaviour?
Why nurturing your child’s emotional intelligence is more important than IQ to succeed in life.
What is Children’s Mental Health week?
Top stats on state of children’s mental health in 2020
Nurturing children’s emotional intelligence.
The light is minimal. The weather is uninviting. We’ve had a let down from celebrations which involve gifts and food and a mild amount of gluttony. As adults, we all feel it. We even have an awareness day called ‘Blue Monday’ to remind us to watch out for ourselves and each other (This year it was 20/01/20). However, it can be so easy to forget the unique way children experience this phenomenon.
Children have often just been through a very intense month. Lessons are often jumbled. They have had a break from school. They have also (more often than not) had an increase in high sugar, high fat foods. Also, January is notorious in education to be a “nose to the grindstone” kind of month. This is quite the juxtaposition from a month of merriment coupled with down time. Add to this the lack of light and the way the weather minimises their ability to go outside and you have the perfect recipe for moodiness and restlessness.
Luckily, armed with the right tools, parents and carers can make a huge difference to their child’s mood through the winter. Here are a few key areas for helping children learn to regulate their mood even on the darkest, wettest days.
Know Your Child’s Mood
Just like adults, children manifest the blues in very personal ways. Some children slow down and look melancholy. Other children actually become hyper and non-compliant. Others become incredibly sensitive and easy to offend. Take a scientific observer approach and notice and name the way your child looks and behaves when they have the blues. This way, you can help make them aware of what their body does so that they can notice the need for regulation in themselves.
Fight Boredom in Children with Preparation
Boredom is not the same thing as having nothing to do. Boredom is actually a stress state. It is the anxiety that comes with not knowing what to do with yourself. Sit down with each child at a time when you are both feeling OK. Brainstorm a list of things that your child can do when they are ‘bored’. Then, refer to the list should your child be exhibiting boredom. If the list is long, this might be overwhelming. In this case, choose 3ish options from which your child can select for an activity.
Make Tech Time Rules Ahead of Time
Tech can be a very alluring alternative to being bored. The flashy light and easy story that comes with TV shows and games keeps our lazy brains just busy enough to not be bored without allowing any real thought process to happen. There is a time and place for tech in all of our lives. However, it can easily become addictive and lead to a loss of interest in activities that require a bit more effort. Decide how and when tech time should be a part of your child’s life and stick to it. This way, you don’t create a rod for your own back once the sun starts to reappear. Just like mood, children need to know how to regulate tech. Teach them that it is not there as a time filler, but simply an activity for a small part of their day.
Emotion Coaching Is Key
We do all we can to provide a space that is engaging and minimises stress. Sadly, there will still be times that your child will get the blues. This is a time that provides a great opportunity to coach your child through noticing, naming and regulating their emotions. We have to remember that it is not our job to fix things. It is our job to provide the language and guidance for them to fix themselves. Emotion Coaching skills are the best way to do this whilst at the same time providing a space for parent child bonding.
Check in with Yourself
When looking at things through the lens of parenting, it is very easy to forget about the parent. I don’t know if anyone has ever told you this, but parents are…people. That means that we also feel the winter blues, get low, get bored and become irritable. It’s OK to be a person whilst being a parent. Check in with yourself before engaging with your children and make sure that you are speaking from a calm and helpful place rather than one of frustration. If you have an occasion where the blues spoke first and you engaged in a way you wish you hadn’t, let your kids know that you made a mistake and ask for their forgiveness. This is a wonderful opportunity to model how to do this. It lets your kids know that they can also make mistakes and be forgiven. More importantly, forgive yourself and let it go. We are running a marathon, not a sprint. A little stumble is OK.
Educating Matters offers an amazing seminar on Emotion Coaching in corporate and educational settings. For more information on this and all the other ways we offer support click here
Remember that winter is finite. The sun will return. Before you know it, the park will be less muddy and the garden more appealing. Implementing a few strategies will make the winter turn from bleak to cosy.
It’s World Mental Health Day. This year’s focus is on suicide prevention. This is such an important issue to consider when working with our children as it is one of the leading causes of death for healthy teenagers.
In today’s society, changes are happening for the better to promote positive mental health. However, boys continue to suffer from the social pressure that defines them by their gender. They are permitted to cry at the serious things like death and divorce. However, they are continually encouraged to repress any emotion other than anger and happiness in their day to day lives. Because of this assumption that boys do not have deep feelings, they are being exposed to far fewer ways to define their emotions than their female peers. This leads to higher levels of depression and anxiety coupled with a useless shame for seeking help. Can we really wonder why many of our boys are lacking coping skills for their emotions when they feel they don’t have permission to have those feelings to begin with?
Luckily, we are in a moment of awakening when it comes to resolving gender bias. Society is realising that this is not a feminist issue, but a human issue. We can do better for our children by providing them with an emotional vocabulary that is not coupled with shame and guilt for not “being a man”. Here are some important facts to instill in all of our children to help them experience emotions without letting them cause poor mental health
All Emotions Are OK and Have Names
In the beginning of language development, we feel sad, mad or happy. As we develop more language skills, we broaden our understanding of how our world works. The earlier we can better define how we feel; the more awareness we develop of why we feel that way. Let them learn the difference between hyper and energized, between ecstatic and joyful, between furious and frustrated. The coping skills for all of those feelings are different as are the causes. Definition provides insight which provides self-awareness.
Give the Gift of Because
Children often feel negative emotions as anger (adults do as well!). Anger is a superficial emotion that we feel because we cannot define or cope with the underlying feeling. Adding one simple word can help move through the anger to the real feeling that is causing pain. So, “I’m angry”, the comment becomes “I’m angry because I lost the game.” Then, we can help them define the real feeling of disappointment or embarrassment. Finding their ‘because’ also provides a moment to bond with your child. Who doesn’t want a few extra moments like that!
Vulnerability is NOT the Same as Weakness
This is a lesson that many guarded people struggle to learn. There is a strength in being vulnerable. There is courage in being vulnerable and showing up anyway. Responding to vulnerability by offering a secure space for reflection teaches our children to be comfortable in their own skin at all times. It teaches them grit and to be brave.
Asking for Help is an Essential Life Skill
Any teacher will tell you, one of the biggest challenges in a classroom comes from children being afraid to ask for help. They fear exposing themselves as someone who does not know what to do. This translates into a limiting belief that can be life threatening. We need to change the narrative. Those who ask for help, get what they need to be better. Help may need to be academic, emotional, physical or in questioning identity. There is nothing more isolating than being under resourced without a developed skill and ability to ask for help. We need to teach our children the skill of asking for help now so that when they are older, that muscle is already developed.
Mental Health is Equal in Value to Physical Health
We would not hesitate to go to the hospital for a broken arm. We know that we do not have to suffer extreme pain without support and that healing can take time. The same is true when suffering with poor mental health. Exam stress will always be there. However, it does not need to be so extreme that the emotional pain becomes unbearable. Teach them that it is ok to find better resources for coping. There are professionals who are educated and trained to help. It only makes sense to rely on their expertise when under-resourced.
Many mental health conditions in adolescence and adulthood can be avoided if we educate our children now. Gender should not define how broadly or how deeply we are allowed to feel. It is time that we allow our boys and girls to define and cope with all feelings. Emotions are not just for girls anymore.
Please see here for further articles and vlogs on the topic of ‘Emotion Coaching’.
Further useful tips to help your children manage difficult emotions.
‘Name it to tame it’
‘Stop, Drop & Breathe’
Also read Dan Siegel’s ‘The Whole Brain Child’
& Laura Markham’s ‘Calm Parents, Happy Kids’
This was the busiest Children’s Mental Health week I’ve had since it was created 5 years ago. Delivered multiple talks in corporates over the course of the week with the largest audience size for a talk being a record turnout of 650 for one investment bank.
Please see some practical tips on using ‘Emotion Coaching’
Helping your child talk through their emotions is more important than trying to find a quick fix to problems
One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is to help him or her become “emotionally articulate” so they can recognise, express and manage their feelings.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is arguably more important to get through life than IQ and employers are increasingly looking for ways to measure EQ when recruiting.
The state of children’s mental health has been mentioned in the press a great deal recently. As a parent coach/educator speaking to thousands of parents, I have also noticed many more parents increasingly raising issues such as their child’s self-esteem, anxiety, anger, eating disorders, self-harming and depression.
Many schools appreciate how important it is to put preventative measures in place to support children’s mental health. JFS has introduced a “health hut” — a comfortable space for students to book an appointment and chat with various external professionals three times a week about any issues concerning them. Sixthformers are trained to deliver programmes to support the younger years.
At Immanuel College, year heads are trained in mental-health issues such as anxiety and eating disorders. The whole Immanuel community is taught about respecting and valuing the importance of good mental health and how to achieve it.
The most effective way to respond when a child of any age is experiencing a difficult emotion is to acknowledge your child’s perspective and empathise. You don’t have to agree or give in. However, during meltdowns, it is the worst approach for parents to deny feelings, give advice or ask questions. What children need first is empathy: acknowledge their upset so they feel heard and understood.
Haim Ginott, the 20th-century child psychologist said, “Whilst we can find our child’s behaviour to be unacceptable at times, his or her feelings should never be.”
Using the analogy of an iceberg, the tip is a child’s behaviour: this is what parents tend to react to. Instead, parents need to address the main issue, the child’s feelings and emotions, which are 90 per cent of the problem, and under the surface.
Parents can act as an emotion coach for their children, using “reflective listening”. Acknowledging and labelling emotions has proven to have a soothing effect on the nervous system, helping children recover more quickly. This technique is the basis of many forms of psychotherapy.
Next time your child is experiencing a difficult emotion:
1. Put your own emotions and wishes to one side and observe your child. Look at their body language, tone of voice and listen to what they say.
2. Imagine how your child is feeling and reflect that back to them in words. You can take an educated guess and even if you are wrong, your child will still feel respected, validated and heard. For instance, if your child can’t do something rather than saying, “don’t be silly, it’s easy”, say: “You look really frustrated. You have tried so many times.”
3. It also helps to describe their resistance, for instance: “You wish you didn’t have to go to bed. You want to stay up late like mummy.”
Parents mainly want to fix the problem quickly and make it go away. However, it is better to listen first and talk through the emotion. Address the unwanted behaviour and problem-solve later.
Emotions are there to be felt and then they can move on.
It takes practice and determination to stay calm and empathise, especially during tantrums and meltdowns. It is the best tool a parent has — to communicate, connect and encourage children to be more emotionally articulate.
Do this effectively and the impact on your child’s long-term mental health and well-being will be enormous.