The Emotional World of Children
Feelings come naturally to everyone. For most young children, the expression of their feelings comes quite instinctively – just think of the toothless grin on a baby’s face when he sees his mother or a toddler crying when he is hurt.
Before they reach school-going age, most children would have learnt how to handle emotions through their interactions with adults, especially their parents. Unfortunately, some children learn that feelings are bad or unacceptable and to survive, they suppress or even reject their feelings.
“Daddy said crying is weak. If I cry no one will like me.” – Jerry, 8
“Anger is bad because when I show my anger daddy slaps me.” – Gabriel, 5
“When I am sad I will try to smile because I don’t want to make mummy sad too.” – Kaixin, 10
Like the children who made the above comments, some children learn not to acknowledge their frustration and pain. The inability to acknowledge, accept and express feelings has often led to ill health, poor academic performance and low self-esteem. These are effects that may manifest in children and follow them into adulthood.
As parents, we can do a lot more to teach our children about emotions. Our own attitude towards emotions can have a big impact on the way children learn to cope with their feelings. In fact, research shows that children whose parents respond to their emotions with patience and empathy do better in various aspects that include academic achievement, overall health and the ability to sustain lasting relationships.
It take skills and practice to become aware of, understand and help manage our children’s emotions. We will explain this in further detail in next month’s article using the parameters drawn out by Dr John Gottman in Emotion Coaching.
Parents as Emotion Coaches
Emotion Coaching was first introduced by Dr John Gottman, a strong advocate for parents as emotion coaches. The aim of Emotion Coaching is to develop happier and healthier children as well as to establish better parent-child relationships.
He outlined 5 useful steps in guiding parents to support and coach their children:
Step 1 – Emotional Awareness: Being emotional attuned to your child’s feelings involves observing the obvious cues (such as facial and verbal expressions) as well as the subtle ones (such as body language and tone of voice).
Step 2 – Recognizing Emotions as an Opportunity for Intimacy and Teaching: When you offer guidance and share your life experiences during your child’s emotional moment, you impart invaluable lessons to him or her on dealing with negative feelings that will emerge at points throughout their lives.
Step 3 – Listening Empathically and Validating the Child’s Feelings: Listening with empathy and validating a child’s positive or negative feelings helps comfort the child and also helps improve his or her ability to pull themselves together during troubled times.
Step 4 – Labelling Emotions: Putting a name to the emotion not only helps your child makes sense of what he or she is feeling but also helps calm them down and allow for quicker recovery from upsetting situations.
Step 5 – Setting Limits While Helping the Child Problem-Solve: Setting limits on inappropriate behaviour is as crucial as accepting and valuing children’s emotions. By doing so, you are also helping your child to find an appropriate manner of dealing with strong emotions like anger.
Being an emotion coach is not an easy task as you need to become aware and comfortable with the mix of emotions you yourself go through. If you wish to be an emotion coach and require support, you may approach any social worker or counsellor from the Marine Parade Family Service Centre.
Written by Gwen Koh, Senior Social Worker