Empathy: The Foundation of Emotion Coaching

This post was written by Stephanie Petters, coordinator of the API Reads program.

The discussion of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child  by John Gottman, PhD is continuing to unfold as we near the end of the book.  An excerpt from the book:

“When children feel emotionally connected to their parents and the parents use this bond to help kids regulate their feelings and solve problems, good things happen … our studies show that children who are Emotion-Coached do better in terms of academic achievement, health, and peer relationships. They have fewer behavior problems, and are better able to bounce back from distressing experiences. With emotional intelligence, they are well prepared to handle the risks and challenges that lie ahead.”

Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child book coverAPI Reads is Attachment Parenting International’s online book club on Goodreads, but it’s more than a club for people who love to read books—it’s a place to share concerns and ideas to strengthen the connection to our children and families as well as share our own personal experiences.

For example, in Chapter 4 of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, the author explores the topic of avoiding criticizing, humiliating or mocking your child:

“Minute by minute, well-intentioned parents chip away at their kids’ self-confidence by constantly correcting their manners, deriding their mistakes, and unnecessarily intruding as kids try to perform the simplest tasks. They absent-mindedly describe their children with labels that stick like glue to the child’s self-concept. (Bobby is “hyperactive.” Karie is “the quiet one.” Bill is “lazy.” Angie is “our little Puddin’ Head.”) It’s also common to hear parents make jokes for other adults at a child’s expense, or to see parents mock their children’s sadness, using worlds like, ‘Don’t be such a baby.’ “

Here are reader responses to the above:

    • I loved this chapter and underlined so much of it!
    • As a former piano teacher, I have observed a lot of “constantly correcting their manners, deriding their mistakes, and unnecessarily intruding as kids try to perform the simplest tasks.” I make every attempt not to label a child–my own or a student.
    • A HUGE pet peeve of mine is lazy compliments! “Good!” Oh please! I am so glad the author address this on page 112. It’s about specific, not global, praise for an action.
    • I miss Mr. Rogers (page 113), and I do think the busy style of many children’s shows is just silly and talks down to the children.
    • I do find myself wanting to give sermons to correct any kind of vices that could be long-lasting, such as speaking disrespectfully or lying.
    • I appreciate giving my son as many opportunities as possible to make choices and decisions. I think this is such a great building step for self-regulation and the ability to take care of himself as he grows older. I give him lots of say over food, clothing and sometimes time. We do limit computers and video games to the weekends. I agree it can make such obedient and cooperative children whose sense of purpose gets stunted when they bump into pleasing others as an adult. I’m working through this now as an adult!
    • I’m a big hugger and back rubber. It’s amazing to see my son’s tension melt when he is touched with tenderness. (page 124)
    • “It is the parent who determines what behavior is permissible.” (page 126) This is where I struggle. I struggle to know what I should be expecting of my son and what I should allow as part of his growing and development.

What else have we been discussing? We’ve been discussing empowering your child with choices, the scaffolding technique for praise, not imposing solutions and more!

Everyone is welcome to join the discussion—or simply to follow the conversation—at API Reads on GoodReads. We’ll be discussing Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child for the remainder of December. Our next book for discussion starting on January 1 is The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland. Support API by using this link to purchase The Science of Parenting for January.


Quiet Time

When my four-year old and I were on a trip recently, he usually managed about ten minutes out with the family we were visiting, the mom, two kids, and two dogs eating and talking and walking around, before he’d say, “I need privacy.” He first learned the term when we were visiting my mom last summer. He wanted to be with her all the time, even when she was in the bathroom and had the door closed. So, not really thinking about how the concept of privacy would be further interpreted, I gave him the message that when the door was closed that meant he (or anybody) should give the person behind said door some time alone.

Fast forward nine months and my son is behind a closed door. Privacy is now his word for space. Though I was a little concerned that his buddy’s feelings would be hurt when he looked at her, said, “I want privacy” and closed the door in her face, I was happy that he had the words to ask for space when he needed it.

We worked on how to politely ask for it during the rest of our trip. It felt somehow in alignment with the other lesson we’re working on right now (one I and many adults need as much as our kids): we can decide what we want to do but we can’t decide what other people are going to do. So when Gilly would come to knock on the door and ask, “Do you want to play now Cavanaugh?” my son learned to say in his nice voice, “I still want some privacy.” We didn’t quite get to, “Thanks for asking. I’ll let you know when I’m ready” but he’s four, so that might be expecting a bit much.

Though the lesson in privacy came because Cavanaugh didn’t want to give my mom a second alone, now that she’s here visiting, he  tried out the concept on my mom this morning. He didn’t ask for privacy or space. He just clung to me and said that we were playing LEGOs with instructions. He knows Gramma doesn’t do LEGO instructions, but buildw “out of her imagination” instead. Here was another way of saying, “I don’t want to play with you right now.” We were in the living room and there was no door to close, so he adapted. I was surprised at his request and impressed with his knowing he needed some alone time with Mama.

With our recent two-week trip to visit friends and now an eight-day visit from my mom, figuring out how much time with other people is something I need to do too. This morning after our LEGO session, I went upstairs to shower and be alone. Then I cleaned off the bathroom counter, made the bed, and put away some laundry. When I’m maxed out, I need to be alone in an orderly environment. I didn’t know that growing up. I didn’t understand privacy. We weren’t allowed to close doors unless we were changing clothes. Now, I understand that the closed door is a healthy boundary, as is asking for privacy or taking space and time when one needs (or wants) it.

Without realizing it, I passed that understanding on to my son. It’s one of those lessons that reminds me he watches what I do and say and learns from it–so I need to watch what I do and say too. In this case, I’m happy with the behavior I modeled and thrilled to see my son trying it on for size. It fits him quite nicely.

How have you taught your kids the concept of taking space when they need it? How was it taught to you?

Empowering Children with Choices

Certainly there comes a point in our children’s lives where we need them to take on some added responsibility for themselves. Sometimes this happens naturally: Our child suddenly wants to be a “big kid” and do things for himself. As my son used to put it when he was 1 year old, “Me…do it…own!” The age in which young children want to do tasks and chores on their own is wonderful, isn’t it? The newness of their independence and capabilities is so exiting. It is the age of autonomy.

Then comes the next phase: After children’s realization of their sense of autonomy comes their developing sense of initiative. It’s a difference of realizing what children can do versus what they choose to do. Suddenly, parents find themselves nagging when they once had to simply suggest clean-up as a fun game. We become engaged in power struggles and start to dread the moment when we must announce that it’s time to stop playing and put the toys away because we’re very aware of the response we’ll get.

It is important that parents take care not to enable children during this stage, thus discouraging their developing sense of initiative, but to empower them. When we empower our children, they realize their capabilities and begin to learn valuable life skills. American parent educator Kelly Bartlett asks us to consider the following examples of statements regarding clean up time, as posted on The Attached Family online magazine…