How Emotion Coaching Can Help Your Child’s Behavior
I am a mother of an almost 3-year old, easy going girl. When she tantrums, I simply validate what she is feeling “you are sad because you really wanted the blue cup, but we only had the pink one.” Then I help her determine the size of the problem, “as sad as you are, this is a small problem and needs a small reaction. I am happy to help you feel better.” She literally snaps out of it, runs to hug and kiss me, and says sorry. You might be thinking, “well it’s not fair, you are a child counselor; you know what you are doing!” Well, before you start thinking that, let me tell you the story of my almost 5-year old son. While his behavior has improved thanks to consistency, patience and coaching, we used to have a meltdown (which differs from a tantrum because his behaviors were outside of his control) every time we had to transition to something new, or when he was disappointed from not getting his way. I can’t tell you how many times I had to calmly carry him out of the park, Target, or play area while he was kicking, screaming, and yelling. He is a strong willed child that has unique difficulties that make him who he is. He is a child that feels deeply, cares about others fiercely, and lives life to the fullest. I actually wouldn’t change him for the world because that kiddo is going places one day. These two kids have taught me more about emotion coaching than the 15 years of experience of child counseling, evaluations, and advanced degrees. Read below to learn some of the things that being a mother has taught me to help me with my clients.
1. I know that it isn’t your fault that your child has certain struggles. It is not even close to your fault! I can’t help but read body language when I am around others- body language actually speaks louder to me than words. When I meet a parent for the first time the message their body language often says is, “I’m scared this is my fault. I’m scared you are judging me. I’m just plain scared.” What I want to tell each parent is that I have so much respect for you. Being a parent is the most difficult journey we take. Being a parent to a child that experiences big emotions can be even more difficult. When I see you in my office, I really want to give you a hug and say, “It will be okay. Your child is so lucky to have you. Your child will learn to use these big emotions to go places in their life!”
2. While consequences are necessary, they aren’t what will help your child. As a counselor, I work on emotion coaching before I even start to tackle behavioral therapy with my young children. Your child will never learn how to cope with big emotions until they know that you understand and care about what they are feeling. Otherwise, they will bring you into their storm of emotions. When you witness your child having a big reaction to a small problem, start with validation. Let them know that you know they feel mad, sad, frustrated, etc. because of whatever is going on. Then use this time to coach or teach them how to respond. Be creative. I have had a blast helping my own children throw eggs, punch pillows, use “I statements,” and give big squeezes. Emotion coaching isn’t about punishing, but using these moments to teach.
3. Your child is never too young to learn the mind body connection. As a counselor and a mother, I often have my children or clients show on dolls or draw on paper where they feel certain emotions. We then will use “I need” statements. For instance, when drawing anger, they might draw their forehead and hands red and their heart as beating fast. Understanding the mind body connection is a huge step in getting control of our emotional regulation. We then work on “when angry, I need…” statements. It might be hugs, a cool down spot, a punching bag, etc. These statements not only help parents know how to help, but also teaches your child to think about their needs, and to recognize that their goal is to calm down.
Whether your child is an easy going kid or a child that feels those big emotions deeply, emotion coaching is a must. Use their emotions as a time to teach and not just punish. When punishment is necessary, make sure to use natural consequences and to punish out of love and not anger. If things are escalating, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It is our passion to help children realize their strengths and provide parents with more tools.
Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S
Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing counseling and diagnostic evaluations for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, evaluations, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting www.heightsfamilycounseling.com and read more about her services by visiting http://heightsfamilycounseling.com/services-1/