Unlike the Dismissing Parent — who is so uncomfortable with the negative emotions of their children that they find any means possible to dismiss the emotion, the Disapproving Parent — who is openly critical, disapproving and even punishing when their children express negative emotions, or the Laissez-Faire Parent — who is so eager to embrace without condition or boundaries whatever feelings their children are expressing, Emotion-Coaching parents not only accept their children’s emotions but also serve as a guide to help their children understand and handle their emotions. Emotional experiences are seen as opportunities to teach their children how to set limits on inappropriate behavior, how to regulate their feelings, how to find appropriate outlets for intense feelings and ultimately, how to solve problems.
Understandably, the first prerequisite to being a good emotional coach is a strong awareness and acceptance of your own emotions. Such a person is in a much better position to accept the full world of emotions including emotions that are generally considered to be negative, such as sadness, anger, fear and shame.
All emotions are considered valid and thus serve useful purposes in our lives. Sadness, for example, is an opportunity to find out what is missing in our lives. Anger can be a warning sign of a personal or social injustice. Shame may come from being disappointed in ourselves, knowing that we could have and should have done better. Fear can protect us from possible harm. Identifying, accepting and understanding our feelings are keys to better handling our feelings. Parents who are able to handle their feelings constructively are in a position to help their children handle their feelings.
Because parents who are emotional coaches see the value in their children’s negative emotions, they are willing to spend time with crying or fretful children, listen to their worries, empathizing with them, let them vent their anger or just cry it out — fully accepting that it is okay to have such feelings. By doing so, emotion-coaching parents encourage emotional honesty in their children. Such children learn to accept that it is perfectly acceptable to feel any feeling, that all emotions are acceptable. Of course, this does not mean that all behavior is acceptable.
Emotion-coaching parents understand that regardless of the emotion experienced, there are appropriate boundaries for acceptable behavior. “It’s okay to be mad at your sister, but it’s not okay to hit her.” The parent quickly stop offensive behavior and redirect their child to an activity or mode of expression that is less harmful such as hitting a pillow or a punching bag.
Although difficult and unsettling for parents to watch from a distance as children grapple with problems, emotion-coaching parents don’t feel compelled to fix everything that goes awry in their children’s lives. Most problems between children can be solved if parents just give them a chance.
When children complain or feel sad because they can’t have a new toy rather than giving in or becoming angry, parents can simply listen to their child’s frustration, telling them it is natural to feel disappointed, and perhaps suggest some ways to handle the disappointment. By helping children to handle small frustrations, disappointments, sadness or other negative emotions, parents are wisely preparing their children to handle the bigger frustrations, disappointments, and sadness that are eventually a part of all of our life experiences.
The payoffs to being a good emotion-coach for your children are many. Perhaps the strongest immediate reward is that you stay emotionally connected to your children and the greatest long-term reward is that you teach your children what is absolutely essential to successful living, how to handle emotions.