Ep. 82 – Rachel Cram – Feelings Wo-o-o Feelings: Emotional Development in Kids
- Why emotional intelligence is strongly related to childhood experiences
- How to diminish our dismissive, disapproving and laissez-faire parenting styles, and elevate our emotion coaching instead
- How to set boundaries acknowledging all emotions are valid but all behaviors are not
Unlike IQ, EQ (emotional quotient) matures mainly through nurture – how our caregivers respond to us and role model their own emotional growth.
This week on family360 we’re digging into the profound work of Dr. John Gottman and 4 common parenting styles he noticed manifesting when children become emotionally dysregulated. He says there is no such thing as unacceptable emotion, but there are unacceptable behaviors. So, how does a parent hold boundaries while still accepting all emotions, and nurture their child’s emotional growth?
Join us and find out!
Rachel CramRachel Cram is the founding director of Wind and Tide Education Community which she started in the basement of her White Rock home, January 1987. Wind and Tide is built upon the foundations of whole child development and has grown to include over 160 staff and 35 campus locations across the lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada.
Rachel is also a Mom to 6 fabulous kids, and the host of family360, created by Wind and Tide to provide current conversations with specialists, artists and storytellers, exploring parenting, family and life together.
Ep. 82 – Feelings Wo-o-o Feelings: Emotional Development in Kids
Roy Salmond – In your bio, I mentioned Wind and Tide is built on the foundation of whole child development. And when we did our last episode together back at the beginning of season three, you described the tenets of whole child development. You went through all of them. Do you want to do a quick recap as a lead into emotional development for kids?
Rachel Cram – Yeah, I’d love to do that. When we speak of nurturing the whole child or whole person, generally five areas of development come into play. Spiritual development, cognitive development, physical development, social development and emotional development. And a great prop for remembering the components of child development is a hand. So each finger represents one of the components.
Roy Salmond – So the thumb can be spiritual development, the pointer finger, cognitive, the middle finger, physical development, the ring finger, social development and the baby finger, emotional development.
RC – Yeah. And like a hand, all those fingers function together to do things like open doors, play instruments, shake hands.
RS – Type on computer keyboards.
RC – Exactly. So when we think about nurturing children, all of those components come into play. You need all of them to be developing, not necessarily at the same time, but over time in order to experience an ongoing sense of health and well-being.
RS – Rachel do you want to say anything else about whole child development before we jump into talking about emotional development?
RC – I think it’s probably good for the moment, but if you have questions as we go along, you can throw them in.
RS – Well, how would you define then emotional intelligence, since this is our topic for today?
RC – Okay. Emotional intelligence is usually defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
RS – Yeah. So in the big scheme of life, how important is emotional intelligence compared to IQ?
RC – Well, we used to be very focused on IQ or intelligence quotient, that’s what IQ stands for, as the predictor of how someone would go on to survive and thrive in school and work and even in relationships. IQ testing is still used all around the world as a way to determine someone’s intellectual capacity or their disabilities. And experts say they’ve been plagued by a bias for years, for all time, really. But it still has some merit. So it’s still used.
RS – Have I ever told you my IQ story?
RC – No. Are you a genius? Are you about to tell me you’re a genius?
RS – Surprised you asked. I thought you would know.
RC – I think you’re a genius.
RS – When I was in grade three or four my parents got a call that I needed to go see with them, the social worker at the school that was the liaison with the Ministry of Health. And we’d all taken IQ tests as we did around that age and I scored two above what is called intellectually disabled. And they were surprised because I didn’t present like that, despite what my brother says. And they were confused as to why I scored like that. And so I had to go through a pile of tests to understand why the IQ test showed that. And as it ended up, the way I approach things was different than the way the IQ test was catering to with people. So I’ve always been a little different how I processed and how I do things. And that might be why I’m in the arts today. Who knows?
RC – Well, and that’s a case in point of the bias. That is a fascinating story. I can’t believe you haven’t told me that before. That’s really interesting. Okay. So that’s a case in point of why and how we started looking at other forms of intelligence in addition to IQ. You’re saying maybe the arts requires a different
RS – Different way of processing – different way of thinking.
RC – And it’s not just EQ or emotional intelligence that we’ve started to think about since that time. There’s so many more attentions and applications for other forms of intelligence, none of which, at least as far as I know, come with a rating system attached to it like IQ does.
RS – There’s other forms of intelligence.
RC – There’s other forms. So that hands I talked about, really each of those fingers has its own form of intelligence now. So we talk about social intelligence, which is a capacity to communicate and form relationships with empathy and assertiveness, and it’s closely related to emotional intelligence, but it’s not exactly the same thing. And then there’s physical intelligence, which is about understanding our body and having a strong relationship between our minds and our body so that we can reduce harm and allow our body to thrive. And now there’s even sexual intelligence. That’s a new term I’ve heard recently. And so you can just imagine what that’s about. So how we function and flourish as a person on this planet, it comes from multiple layers of intelligence. But emotional intelligence is thought to have a. Greater impact on our overall success than any other one of those factors particularly.
RS – What do you mean by success?
RC – How you can form relationships, how you enter a work situation, how you thrive in a work situation, your capacity for intimacy. EQ affects that more than anything else, even more than IQ. That was the big marker up until now. So now it’s believed that your IQ accounts for only 20% of your overall success in life. The other 80% is largely determined by your emotional intelligence and your social intelligence.
RS – So what does emotional intelligence actually do for us? What does it create?
RC – Well, in your daily life, emotional intelligence, it is what helps you dial into what your body is saying to you. It’s your ability to recognize and interpret with accuracy your own bodily cues and the cues of other people’s bodies, like how they’re standing or moving or their posture or their eyes. Are their eyes looking upset or frustrated or overwhelmed, excited, content, often within moments of looking at that person, which is quite remarkable. Like Roy, do you have some people that just can read you better than other people? Like, they’ll know when you’re feeling upset or they’ll just respond, or can you ever do that? Like, can you read people by looking at that?
RS – Well, that is called body language. And you could see whether somebody is uptight, whether they’re relaxed, whether they’re confident, whether they’re insecure. And it’s everything from their voice and the volume of their voice. And sometimes it’s about their body posture, whether they’re closed up, whether they’re open. I’ve worked in the arts for almost 40 years and everybody is creative. And it’s my personal belief that everybody is an artist. But how people feel about their creativity and their artistic quality always changes, and their body language often showcases where their insecurities are.
RC – Yeah, and your capacity to read that then is a reflection of your emotional intelligence.
RS – Yeah.
RC – Which would be part of whats made you a successful producer over all these years – your ability to read the body language of musician and your clients and support and encourage them accordingly. And in a relationship, emotional intelligence is the best bet for a sustained, intimate connection, whether that’s in a marriage or a friendship or a working relationship like in your studio, largely because it makes us extremely aware of the changes that are constantly happening in ourselves and others. So in families or on teams where there are people with high emotional intelligence, relationships are much more care filled and robust. So it’s definitely worth nurturing our child’s emotional intelligence.
RS – That was going to be my next question. Is emotional intelligence more nature or nurture? That’s the old debate – nature or nurture?
RC – Well, some kids are born with more immediately demonstrable emotional intelligence than others. We often think of kids as being old souls. Have you heard that phrase? They’ll say they’re an old soul. And often that’s the situation with a child who just seems to have more emotional intelligence.
RS – More intuitive to people.
RC – Yeah. So think of kids who around 18 months will come and rub your arm when they notice that you’re quiet or sad. When we were recording our episode on Grief with our guest, Carson Pue, he told the story of his young granddaughter who was so dialed into his emotions after his wife, her grandma died, and how she was always seeming to know when he needed a hug or a baby on his lap. Do you remember that?
RS – I don’t think we actually ended up including that part in the episode release. That was a great thing. He had so many good things to say.
RC – I think we kept some of the story in. I remember his granddaughter’s name was Ellie.
RS – How do you remember these things?
RC- Well, we do spend hours putting together these episodes, and it was a moving story.
RS – Yeah, Yeah. So some kids come into the world with a higher emotional intelligence than others. What else?
RC – Yeah, it seems so. But emotional intelligence can most definitely be learned much more so than IQ, and it’s been strongly linked to early childhood experiences. So it’s wonderful when parents and caregivers are in the know.
RS – Okay, I know you came to this conversation with the plan for nurturing emotional intelligence with kids, and I don’t want to hold you back from digging into the flow of that. But before we go there, can you just maybe give an everyday example of what this would look like so that we, myself included, had the flavor of what you are talking about, what you’re going for?
RC – Sure. So what did you play with when you were four years old?
RS – Oh, my goodness. I had a fairly expansive hot wheel collection. Actually, maybe I was older when I had those, but let’s just say I was four.
RC – Okay. So imagine you built this wonderful wheel track set and you’re really proud of it, and you go into your bedroom to get some more Hot Wheels to play with on the set. And when you come back, you see your brother charging through your set up with his Tonka trucks and smashing the whole main section down. And you’re so upset by this. How dare he? You put all this work into it. You wanted to show your dad when he got home from work, and now you can’t because it’s wrecked. And you’re hurt because your brother would do this and you’re frustrated because it took a long time to build. And then your mom comes into the room and she squats down beside you and she puts her arm around you and she says, “Oh dear, Roy, what happens?”
And you see the concern she has for you, and she’s calm and she’s caring and she’s curious, and she waits for you to tell her what’s going on. And so all the feelings that have been going on inside of you come bursting out of you and you start crying and you’re yelling and you’re telling your mom, “I’m so frustrated and so upset at my brother and I can’t believe he did this.”
And you’re telling her all about this frustrating, infuriating, heartbreaking reality that’s happened to you. And your mom stays right there with you listening and wanting you to tell her all about this wretched occurrence. And she wants you to tell her all about it. She doesn’t try to fix it. She doesn’t try to come up with a plan to make you feel better. She doesn’t condemn your brother. She doesn’t try to distract you by offering you a snack or TV time. She just stays there with you until you take a deep breath. And you’ve said all you want to say about how you’re feeling. And then maybe she gives you some coaching around what to do and what not to do with those feelings. And she’s there and present with you.
Emotional intelligence, like I said, is strongly linked to childhood experiences just like that. In a nutshell, and I’m going to build on this in a moment, children develop emotionally through lots of experiences of discovering and expressing their feelings to someone who will listen and care without trying to fix what it is that’s going on.
RS – That’s very hard to do because as a parent, you usually don’t like to see your child disappointed or crying or upset, and you usually want to modify those feelings.
RC – Yeah. Well, not mollifying takes thought and practice for sure. And this is an example of a golden parenting moment. No one nails it all the time, or probably even half the time. But moments like this, it’s the sweet spot for emotional development.
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RS – Well, I actually found that a moving example, thinking about myself as a child back then.
RC – How did you feel?
RS – If I put myself in the position of that child, like you asked me to, I would feel very connected and comforted by my mom. And frankly, really, we all want to be listened to and seen like that. You know, even as adults, that doesn’t change. If I have a frustrating day or somethings affected me emotionally, to be able to talk it out to somebody and have them just listen without having to fix it or give an answer. We are so answer oriented. And if we could just be heard, sometimes it works itself out just on its own. So that was a helpful example. Thank you.
RC – You’re welcome. Do you have any other questions about the scenario?
RS – Not at the moment. I just would like more if that mom or that type of a relationship. We all want that and we all need that in our lives.
RC – Yeah. Okay. I’ll keep going, then.
RS – Okay.
RC – So we were talking about how childhood is a key determinant for emotional development, because emotional intelligence is now seen as such a major component to success and satisfaction in life. Research has spent considerable time exploring how caregivers can encourage its development. John Gottman, who’s like a guru in family dynamics and relationships, and we’ve had episodes about him on the show already too.
RS – Yes we have. With Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart.
RC – Yeah. Talking about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. That’s Gottman’s work as well. Well, he released a book called Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, and it’s an outstanding resource for parents and caregivers. And in that book, Dr. Gottman explains in practical language and examples how to coach children to regulate their emotional world. In his lab in Seattle, Washington, he’s spent years watching parents respond to their child’s emotions. And he found that parents respond in one of four different ways.
RS – So these are like four different parenting styles or.
RC – Yeah, I mean, I don’t think a parent would claim these as their styles, but they’re usually unconscious trends more in how a parent responds.
RS – Are there some better than others?
RC – Well, let me describe them. But yes.
RS – Okay.
RC – The first three are the styles we want to avoid. And as I list them, I want to say, as a parent myself, I’ve responded like these ‘don’t do this’ styles so many times. So as people listen, please remember no parent would do this well all the time, and thinking ‘we need to do it well all the time’ is unrealistic and unnecessary. So that’s the caveat.
RS – What’s the first one?
RC – The first method is dismissing parenting. And this is when parents tend to see their child’s emotions as unimportant and they attempt to eliminate them quickly. So to use that hot wheel track example that you gave me, if your parent was using a dismissive style, they would say something like, “You’re okay, Roy, you’re fine. Don’t be upset.”
So dismissing your feelings, which in terms of emotional development is problematic because then the child is having all these feelings inside of themselves, the anger, the frustration, the hurt and the parent is pairing that with, “You’re okay, you’re fine.”
RS – It’s kind of like if you fall down and you skin your knee, the parent says, “Oh, you’re fine, get up.”
And you’re going, “It’s burning and bleeding.”
RC – That’s right. This is fine? Or a dismissive parent also might try to ignore your upset if you if you don’t settle down fairly quickly or quietly. They might say something like, “Why don’t you go to your room until you feel like you can be happy?”
Or they’ll deal with emotions through the use of distraction.
RS – Like saying they’re going to go punish your brother?
RC – Yeah. Although you might really want that to be the answer. Yeah. Or they might change the subject, like, “Hey, you know who’s coming over this afternoon, Grandma?”
And try to end the emotion quickly by getting you to think about something else.
RS – What would make a parent respond like that?
RC – Well, honestly, we all probably respond like that at times because we’re we’re busy or we’re tired or
RS – And we’re just not on our A-game at the moment.
RC – We’re not at our A-game. Yeah. And we’re distracted.
But if this is the way that you respond frequently, then John Gottman would determine you have a dismissive parenting style. And likely that’s a reflection of how you consider your own emotions as well.
RS – Like dismissing my own emotions.
RC – Yeah. Not really attune and interested in and paying attention to the feelings in your own body. So that’s the first parenting style.
RS – So the second?
RC – The second parenting style is called disapproving parents and disapproving parents are parents who view emotions as being good or being bad. So good emotions are the more positive emotions like happy, content, grateful. And bad emotions are the more negative emotions, like angry, frustrated, disappointed. Where in truth, there is no such thing as good and bad emotions. All emotions serve a purpose and our bodies need the full range in order to have complete and compelling expression. Disapproving parents see negative emotions as something to be squashed or mollified, as you said earlier on, which is a great word. So in the situation with the Hot Wheels, a disapproving parent might say something like, “Okay, that’s enough crying,” or “You knocked over your brother’s logo yesterday. He didn’t make this kind of fuss when you knocked over his Legos. Don’t be a whiner, Roy.”
Or the classic. “If you keep that up, I’ll give you something to really cry about.”
RS – That’s harsh.
RC – Yeah. And I think what makes this seem harsh right now is the example I’m using with it – tying it back to your hot wheels example. But say a parent told a child that they can’t have a snack before dinner and the child starts crying and grumbling and be like, “grumble grumble grumble…”
And the parent says, “If you keep that up, then you won’t get dessert,” or something like that.
So similar to dismissive parenting, the emotion is not given space to be seen and expressed, but with a disapproving parent, there is a judgment of wrongness attached to it.
RS – So dismissive parenting – just trying to recap – dismissive parenting, disapproving parenting. So it’s a third style?
RC – The third parenting style is called laissez faire parenting. Laissez faire in French means, ‘let them do as they wish.’ Laissez faire parents were the parents in Gottman lab who accept all the emotions from a child. They don’t overlook the reality of emotions being there. They don’t see emotions as bad, but they don’t support the child through the emotion by listening or coaching, or even put limits on appropriate behavior. So with the hot wheel track again for example, when the parent hears the ruckus of upset start they wouldn’t bother to go see what was happening, perhaps, but they just let the chips fall and land where they may.
RS – Wherever it goes.
RC – Yeah. So if you went to pound on your brother in retaliation, that’s what happens. And if you got really angry and slammed the door to your room and didn’t come out for a long time, that’s what happens. And if you went to your brother and asked him to help you rebuild the track and he did or didn’t agree to doing that, that’s what happens. So the parents leave the child to navigate emotions on their own.
RS – There’s no sense of direction or coaching or even getting involved.
RC – No. And coaching is the keyword as we go into this fourth parenting style. The fourth parenting style Gottman called ‘emotion coaching’ parents. And these are the parents who value all emotions as necessary. They don’t see some emotions as good and some emotions as bad. And when their child experiences negative emotions, they’re not impatient with a child’s expression of those emotions.
RS – This would be like the parent in the example you gave me originally.
RC – Yeah, like that Mom in that example, who cares for you after your hot wheel track was destroyed. And basically, like the parent in that example, an emotion coaching parent uses emotional experiences as an opportunity for bonding with the child by really seeing them and listening to them and then offering support and guidance through labeling emotions and problem solving suggestions for the issue at hand. And we didn’t get to that in the example, but I’m going to share examples about that in a few minutes. And then the research shows that the children of parents who do emotion coach are physically healthier.
RS – What do you mean by physically healthier?
RC – Get less colds, less flus. They’re more attuned to their bodies and their parents are as well. So I think part of it is that you’re just catching those things earlier; knowing if your child is tired, knowing if they’re cold, knowing if they’re hungry.
RS – Paying more attention.
RC – Yeah, so that would directly feed into health. But also just the calm that comes from that kind of emotional coaching also is so helpful for physical health. Those kids also do better in school and are more capable in creating and maintaining strong relationships with friends and family. The number one determinant of a child’s emotional development is the quality of the relationship with their primary caregivers. And that, of course, means parents, but also grandparents, aunts and uncles, childcare providers, teachers,
RS – A village. It takes a village, a village of emotion coaches.
RC – A village of emotion coaches would be an amazing thing for a child or for anyone.
RS – To like to live in that village.
RC – Yeah, me too.
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If you have questions forming in your mind as you listen to this conversation with Rachel, ask away!! Email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you and we’ll try to give you the answers you seek in our newly releasing, snack-sized, Q&A episodes!
RS – As I sit in the control room listening to you interview our guests Rachel, I’m often listening with the ear of a parent and often a question that comes to my mind when you’re asking all these questions is around boundaries. If I can return to the hot wheel example, say my emotion was anger and an intense feeling of wanting to do harm to my brother, like hit him or bite him or something. As you described, everything calmed down and fell into place, but often that’s not the case. Honestly, I don’t think I would have responded lightly or graciously, despite what my mom was coaching. So my question is, where in all of this does a parent create boundaries? You said the parent doesn’t fix it, but kids sometimes want to have a fix. They want resolution and fairness and a sense of justice.
RC – Yeah, that’s a great question. I remember one time one of my daughters was so angry at her older brother, they would have been about – she would have been six, him eight. And she was raving to me about how horrible this was. He’d done something like string her stuffies up from a stairwell. And she wanted to go wreck something of his and was set to go do that.
And I was listening and trying to be present to her fury. And I remember I told her a story about a time I had been so angry at my sister for doing something. And I describe my feelings. I said, “I remember I felt so scratched up inside, and tight in my head and I wanted to scream and cry. And I went to my sister’s bedroom and I pulled apart her bed and dumped her in her sock drawer and her underwear drawer because I wanted to get back at her.”
And as I was telling her the story, I remember my daughter backing up, kind of looking at me with appall, like, “You did that to Auntie Lydia. That is totally out of control Mom. Why would you do such a thing?”
RS – Because moms aren’t supposed to lose it like that.
RC – No, but it’s much easier to set boundaries when our kids know ‘we know how they feel’. ‘We get it’. Siblings suck at times and we suck at times.
I also remember once in a less ideal parenting moment, that same daughter was frustrated with a sibling and I said, “Well, just go hit her then.”
I think I was trying to get dinner on the table before we left for soccer or something like that. And she said, “Mom!” kind of like, “You’re useless to me at this moment. As if I’m going to do that.”
And it’s not that she never hit her siblings because she did. All my kids have hit each other many times. But she knew that wasn’t the solution a wise parent should be giving. And that’s good. She was figuring it out though, herself. So bounties are essential, of course, but they flow best from a point of connection.
RS – There’s something so appealing about stories of our parents doing things that are obviously wrong and bad and destructive or whatever. There’s a sense of comfort in the scandal of their bad choices or behaviors and times when their emotional intelligence hasn’t been optimum.
RC – Yeah. Because it lets your kids know emotions are powerful.
Not just for them, but for you, their parents as well. And you’re not always responding perfectly. And you’re still here. You’re still a good person. You made it to adulthood in reasonable form. So then when they feel all these big emotions and respond in ways that aren’t always helpful, it helps them recognize they’re a good person, it’s just emotions are complex and it takes time and practice to know what to do with big emotions.
RS – So talk to me then more about being an emotion coach for a child. What does that entail and where would one start?
RC – Well, as I was just saying, emotions are complex and as adults we’ve got to remember that kid’s emotions are just as complex as our emotions.
RS – Absolutely.
RC – Kids get frustrated. They get excited, they get angry, disappointed, jealous, nervous, overwhelmed, embarrassed, just like adults. But they absolutely but they don’t have the vocabulary to talk about how they feel. So they have to communicate their feelings in other ways. My oldest daughter is about to have a baby and I know their home is about to be filled with much more crying.
RS – From the baby?
RC – Perhaps from them too, but yes, mainly from the baby.
And that crying isn’t going to be because the baby’s being neglected or even because the baby’s sad. Crying is the only form of communication that baby has in order to get their parent’s attention, at least for the first while. So if she’s hungry, she’s going to cry. Tired – she’s going to cry. Needing a diaper change – cry. Too cold – cry. Wanting interaction – cry. She can’t call from a room and say, “Mom, dad, I’m awake.” Or, “Hemm, needing a little attention over here.”
Crying is a basic extent of a baby’s vocabulary, but as adults if we’re not used to babies that crying can feel really stressful because we equate it to what crying would mean for us.
RS – Distress.
RC – Yeah.
RS – Or sadness. Or uncomfortable.
RC – Yeah. And so right from that baby stage, parents and caregivers start tuning into the emotions of their child.
RS – Well you start to recognize ‘that’s the hungry cry’. ‘That’s the tired cry’. You start to pick up on all the nuances.
RC – Yeah. You start tuning into your child’s emotional cues and not requiring your child to amp up their emotional expressions for their feelings to be acknowledged. You don’t ignore your baby or toddler’s cries until they can be more clear. You don’t stand by the room and say, “Hey, how am I supposed to know what you need?
All your cries sound the same to me. You got to be more clear.”
No! You tune into your child’s emotions by looking at their body language. And as they start to be able to speak, listening to what they’re saying with their limited vocabulary and observing their behaviors. And then as you figure out what they’re feeling and why, you can help them identify, manage and express those feelings with more clarity.
RS – Can you give me an example of that?
RC – Okay. So the baby’s crying. Often a parent will go to the baby and start to say to the baby what they think the baby’s feeling. So, “Oh, you’re feeling hungry. You need something to eat. Let’s go get you something to eat. Does that feel better?”
And then you feed the baby. And then you might say, “You were hungry. You needed something to eat. Now you feel better.”
Like, do you remember doing things like that?
RS – Yeah. Yeah. A lot more sappy talk, but.
RC – But you automatically emotion coach babies and toddlers because it’s very apparent they can’t communicate their emotions with words. But older children can’t communicate their emotions with words all the time either. And for that matter, often adolescents and even adults can’t either.
RS – Oh yeah, we still wrestle with that.
RC – We do. So having someone tune in into our cues and helping us identify our emotions can be really helpful.
RS – That’s actually what a good counselor does.
RC – Yeah. Exactly.
RS – Well, let me tell you a story. I may have told you this before, but this goes way back to my first year of college and I was having a relational issue and I couldn’t sort it out for myself. And so I thought, well, maybe I need to go see the school counselor because it was just vexing me or whatever. And I went in and I poured out my feelings to him and he listened and he was present and he didn’t try to fix anything. And I talked nonstop for half an hour. And I walked out of the counseling office and I felt like I had some more clarity. And it just showed me that sometimes just being listened to and having someone present is good coaching.
It’s not that I needed specific direction. So can we call that emotion, Coach Tip number one?
RC – Yeah. Okay, let’s do that.
RS – Then what?
RC – Okay, well, so this would be tip number two.
RS – Okay.
RC – See all your child’s emotions as an opportunity for connection and emotional development, as a chance to grow their emotional intelligence. And that’s hard and not always something we can step into perfectly. But in general, if we see our child’s emotions as troublesome or a problem or inconvenience or even something that scares us a little bit, like why do they have to have all these big feelings? They are too much. This child is too emotional. If we start to feel like our child is too much, we miss out on connecting with our child in a manner that will really support their growth and development. So this will not happen all the time, but in the times when you can stop what you’re doing, come alongside your child’s, be present to their emotions. Those are the moments of incredible connection and a chance to be an emotion coach.
RS – Can I just interrupt before you go on? I just want to acknowledge that there are some kids that do seem to require more emotion coaching than others.
RC – Oh, for sure. And at different times, too. I know at certain ages and stages, all of my kids have had times when I’m tempted, honestly, to feel like they’re too much. I can honestly feel sometimes like I don’t even want to connect for the sake of their emotional intelligence. And in those moments, that’s why I know I need to grow mine – my own emotional intelligence. You just can’t let yourself go there in the story you’re telling yourself about your child’s and their behaviors and feelings.
RS – But we do sometimes.
RC – We do. And then you have a wonderful opportunity to apologize and even repair with your child.
RS – And what would that look like?
RC – Wow, you’re just plastering these questions on me. These are good. So thank you.
Well, it would depend on the age of your child, but something along the lines of, “Hey, I know you were so frustrated about your teacher not letting you have your phone out at school. And I know you didn’t need me to give you a lecture and a defense for your teacher. You just needed me to listen, and I blew it. Sorry. Please try me again, and I will work to be a better listener next time because I do really want to hear what you’re feeling about school.”
RS – Well, you’re a good mom, then.
RC – Yeah. Well, I’ve had practice. I’m not always good.
RS – Okay. So tip one was tune into body language and look for cues. Tip two was to see all your child’s emotions as an opportunity for connection and emotional development. So what’s tip number three for emotion coaching?
RC – The next tip would be, ‘Validate their feelings’. This is where you can say things like, “You were really hurt when your teacher got angry at you for having your phone out.”
And they might say, “I wasn’t hurt. I was angry or I was insulted or I was embarrassed.”
And and find that out. How did they feel? That’s what this is all about. You don’t know how they feel. We never really know how someone else feels. But we want to try to understand. That’s how relationships grow and that’s how emotional intelligence grows.
So, “Okay. You were embarrassed. I can see how you would have felt that way. You don’t like having attention on yourself in front of a group. And if I were you, I would have felt embarrassed, too.”
And you can almost always use that line ‘if I were you,’ because it’s true. If you put yourself in their shoes, you can see how that would have been embarrassing for them.
RS – Does that condone the child’s behavior, though?
RC – It’s not condoning their behavior. It’s validating their feelings. And you can always validate feelings because feelings aren’t good or bad. They’re just feelings.
RS – They’re not right or wrong. They’re not a moral issue.
RC – Exactly. You don’t argue with feelings. They just are. If you try to argue with your child or anyone for that matter, about their feelings, that’s when you’re going to lose connection. You’ll lose any possibility of being able to provide up to them help and assistance beyond that point because they’ll feel like you don’t get them. You don’t understand them. They’ll likely even feel you don’t respect them. They’ll probably feel you’re more interested in fixing them than listening to their problem.
RS – So validate the feelings.
RC – Validate the feeling. Give your child your full attention while you listen to their emotional expression. Reflect back what you hear. And in some way, whether that’s a story about your own experience like I gave that example with my child, with wrecking my sister’s room or saying, “If I were in your shoes, I’d feel that way too.”
Or, “I can understand how hard this must be for you.”
Let your child know that you understand what they’re experiencing. And if you don’t, keep asking questions until you do. Emotions are always legitimate for the person who’s feeling them in that moment, because that’s their experience.
Musical Interlude #3
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation on Emotional Development In Kids – there is more to come.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this episode, each guest episode, like this one, will now be extended by 3 snack-sized Q&A sessions – on the topic they shared. So, because I’m the guest this episode, for our next three releases, I’ll be answering questions from you. And then, for our next guest episode, we’re with the wonderful Maggie Dent talking about feelings, friends, femininity, and raising girls. Maggie’s newest book called girlhood is releasing this winter in North America and we’re celebrating.
And now, to my conversation with Roy as we talk about seeing behaviors and setting boundaries.
RS – Okay. So just to recap the emotion coaching tips. Number one is, tune into body language and look for cues. Number two is, see all the child’s emotions as an opportunity for connection and for emotional emotional development. And tip number three was to validate their feelings. And I’m willing to bet that you have a tip number four tucked away.
RC – Okay. Thanks for the recap. A fourth tip would be help your child problem solve with suggestions and boundaries. And you don’t always need this last tip. Often kids just need to be seen and heard and validated. But sometimes, like, if they’re planning on marching back into their classroom and lipping off their teacher about her phone usage policy that they’re appalled by. Or if they want to attack their sibling after they’ve destroyed their Hot Wheels set, the suggestion and boundaries become part of the coaching plan because all emotions are acceptable, but all behaviors are not.
RS – That’s what I was getting at earlier.
RC – Yeah. And this is where you’re asking about boundaries.
Tip number four is more about that. So you don’t usually want to jump to the behavior part prematurely without looking at the emotions behind the behavior. But sometimes you’re going to end up doing that. And these tips, number one, two and three, they don’t have to happen in order or in every interaction we have with our child. That would be impossible and actually not even advisable. You don’t want your child to constantly be marinated in perfect emotion coaching. Not that any of us could even start to have that happen for our child.
RS – That’s why you need a little hot sauce in the marinade. Life gives you hot sauce.
RC – Life is filled with hot sauce. And life is filled with lots of opportunities when there’s no one around emotion coaching or when you as a parent are off your game. And that’s healthy and normal because kids need to experience reality and learn to work it out on their own. But emotion coaching parents, unlike dismissive, disapproving or laissez faire parents, emotion coaching parents frequently like 30% of the time, stop, listen and validate their child’s emotions before making suggestions or limiting their child’s behavior.
RS – So if you want to go back to that story you told of the hot wheel destruction event, if I wanted to go and pound my brother for wrecking my Hot Wheels set, what does a parent do? How do they interact with that? Those overwhelming emotions.
RC – And coach that behaviour?
RS – Yeah.
RC – Okay, you can start by reiterating some of those verbal tips. So saying, “Roy, I can see you’re really angry about what happened. And I understand that. If I were you, I’d be really angry too. But, Roy, I can’t let you go pound on your brother. But what else can we do with the anger that you’re feeling?”
And maybe as you’re the parent or caregiver saying this, you have your arm around the child or you’re rubbing their back and you’re helping their anger dissipate by giving them time and empathy. And then you can explore other opportunities for releasing the anger. So maybe suggestions like, do you want to go talk to your brother” Or, do you want me to come with you to talk to your brother? Can we rebuild the track? Can I help you do that? Or is it time to put the track away for now and put play with something else? Or maybe the brother comes and helps rebuild and put the track back together again.
RS – What if you as a parent were off doing something else and you didn’t hear when this ruckus happened? And I just decided I’m going to go and pound on my brother and I made my own decision.
RC – And you just battled it out?
RS – I just battled it out.
RC – Yeah, well, for sure that’s going to happen a lot of the time and that’s fine, too. That’s normal. That’s life. You can’t be in all places at all times as parents. And your kids need to
try out their own methods of emotional regulation and very often they find methods that work for them that you might not even thought of or recommended. But when you are involved as a parent, and again, ideally, you frequently are, around maybe 30% of the time, you set boundaries that align with what you believe to be best for your child, even if it’s not what they want to hear.
A coach’s job is to coach, not be another peer on their team. So in a calm and clear way, you hold the boundaries that you know are best for the child. One of the really effective emotion coaching tools that we use at Wind and Tide and this really works well with young kids, is a ‘solution center’. So when a problem comes up for a child or between kids, they can go over to the Solution Center for ideas. So it doesn’t even require a parent to be involved, or a teacher.
RS – So, what does that like?
RC – I’ll describe it to you and you can visualize. A Solution. Center has an array of simply drawn pictures of suggestions for when a child is feeling emotionally dysregulated. So suggestions like, ‘Take a break’, and there’s a picture of a child sitting reading a book. So if you’re feeling really upset and overwhelmed, here’s a suggestion, could you take a break?
Or, ‘Ask a teacher for help’. And if it’s at home, ‘Ask a parent for help’. So you’ve got a little picture of a little sick person with a big stick person. So that prompts that idea for them.
Or, ‘Get a timer,’ and there’s a picture of a sand timer. And that’s for situations like when there’s tension between who’s going to use this toy or for how long. So sharing types of situations.
Or, “Have a drink of water’. So you got a little picture of a glass of water because that helps to calm down our body when we take time to just have a drink. So reminding a child of that as a solution.
Or, ‘Jump up and down’. Or, ‘Sing a song’. Sometimes singing a song can just make you feel good.
RS – (starts singing) “I feel good, like I knew that I would now.”
RC – A little James Brown always makes you feel good.
RS – Yeah.
RC – Those kinds of solutions help to calm us down so that we can put motion into the emotions that we’re feeling.
RS – Man, this is so different than how we were raised. There is so much that has emerged even in the last decade with child development and neuroscience. Most of us aren’t even following the well-worn parts of our childhood when it comes to emotion coaching. We never heard of such a thing. We’re kind of figuring it out as we go along and learn all of this, which can make it tough and potentially a point of friction and tension with a partner that
RC – sees differently.
RC – Yeah.
RC – That’s going to happen all the time.
RS – But I can see one caregiver really working to stop and look for cues and listen and get all warm and present and focused – all those tips that you talked about – and another partner feeling like, “Hey, enough of these big feelings. Let’s just get on with it, get over it, let’s go. We need to wrap this up. Enough is enough.”
So how would you reconcile that in the parenting relationship? It can be very emotionally dysregulated for some parents to partner with the parent who sees parenting differently. Has a different style.
RC – Well, in light of that, kids watch what we do with our emotions. What we model is the most powerful form of emotion coaching.
RS – Well, they learn more from what we do than what we say.
RC – Yeah. So when our partner or another adult involved in their care, like a grandparents, parents our child in a manner different to our own preference or practice or understanding, or does something that frustrates us or says something that annoys us.
All of which is normal and unavoidable. That’s going to happen, you can’t get around that. What we do with our emotions – kids pick up all of that. They notice if we become dysregulated, which we will, and then what we do with that dysregulation. Ultimately that’s the number one way we will nurture their emotional intelligence – by what they watch us do with our own emotions and behaviors.
RS – So we have to practice what we preach or live what we coach at least, what, 30% of the time?
RC – Yeah, 30% of the time, which does not necessarily seem like a lot, but it’s much easier to do all of this on some days than others.
RS – So is there anything else you want to say about nurturing emotional intelligence just before we wrap it up?
RC – I think just that it’s important to remember as adults what we were just talking about, that emotional development takes time and practice, and there will always be moments when we’ll regress and need to repair. And if we can mess up – and we will –
of course, our kids will as well.
RS – Patience and practice and compassion are key as we all keep growing in our own emotional intelligence.
RC – Yeah, that’s a great last line.
RS – So let’s end there.
RC – Okay.
RS – Thank you so much for this conversation, Rachel.
RC – You’re welcome. Thanks for your curiosity and questions. That was fun.