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Trusting Emotions

Is there a secret to raising kids with high self-esteem? Arguably there is. It’s a rarely known approach any parent can master: non-judgmental empathic listening coupled with normalization. Through this special blend, our children learn to trust their emotions. “Knowing that my feelings are okay allows me to know that I’m okay.”

Don't React — Respond

"Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?"
Lao Tzu
How many times a day do your children say or do something that bothers you — words or actions you know are wrong or simply irritating? And how often do you quickly correct or scold?

The Power of Parental Emotion Coaching

The tenor of the emotional environment in which children are raised has life-lasting effects for them (Valliant, 2012; Waldinger & Schulz, 2016). This emotional environment influences children’s brain development and their ability to regulate their emotions (Cassidy, 1994; Perry, 2002; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). Emotion regulation can be defined as “the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable and sufficiently flexible to permit spontaneous reactions as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed” (Cole, Michel, & Teti, 1994, p. 76).

When Kids Cry

Perhaps the toughest thing when our children cry are the emotions their tears trigger in us: empathic upset and sadness, plus a sense of helplessness that comes from thinking we need to do something while unsure what that would be. If we ourselves feel uncomfortable with those emotions -- upset, sad, helpless -- our kids' tears will be that much harder for us to be around.
Your daughter comes home in tears. She can barely choke out words to describe the mean things some girls said to her on the school bus. You listen to her story and try to comfort her. If you’re really skilled, you’ll offer her attunement.

Hiding Negative Feelings

Imagine that for twenty minutes, your 4-year-old has been fussing at the playground, crying and complaining and kicking sand at other children. Feeling growing irritation, you inch toward delivering a serious scolding. But you sense the watchful eyes of parents nearby, and so you suppress your feelings and handle the moment with faked aplomb.

The Mind’s Traffic*

It’s our fast reactions that get us into trouble: “I can’t believe you did such a stupid thing!” or “What the hell were you thinking?” or “You’re a real ____!” When words erupt quickly, it’s the emotional brain reacting, not the logical brain responding.

Feeling Excited

Our kids regularly face situations that provoke strong emotion: the first day of school, playing in a big game, giving an oral report, attending the prom. At those times, it’s not uncommon for them to feel unsettled and ill at ease. They might say they’re feeling anxious. We’ve been there; we know what they’re talking about.

Are You Okay?

We say it often — “Are you okay?” — when we notice that our child’s mood seems “off,” or he’s experiencing an emotional setback, or she’s tripped on the pavement or fallen off her bike. We say it because we care; we’re concerned.

Table the Text

In this text exchange, the responder might be playful … or angry … or indifferent — we can’t know for sure. That’s because all we see are the words; we don’t hear emotion.