When my son was four years old, I became obsessed with getting him to obey. I was tired of asking him to do something more than once, tired of explaining why I wanted it done, and especially tired of the struggle that ensued every time we tried to leave the house! It didn’t seem unreasonable to me to expect him to willingly cooperate with my reasonable requests. Well, he clearly had other plans.
The more I wanted him to obey without argument, the more he resisted. The more he resisted, the more I yelled. The more I yelled, the less connection there was between us. Having him obey regardless of how he felt, or why he felt that way, became my main objective. And very quickly we both became miserable.
I have a pretty low tolerance for pain, so it wasn’t long before I started to question my objective—blind obedience—and whether or not it fit with my longer term goals for my son. Taking a longer range view, I realized that I actually am not very interested in raising an obedient child. After all, I want him to be able to hold his own in the world of peer pressure. Imagining him as a young man, I came to realize that I hoped for many things for him, and obedience was nowhere near the top of the list. In fact, it wasn’t on the list at all.
Some of things I want for him are:
• RESILIENCY – the ability to bounce back from the challenges of life
• EMOTIONAL INTIMACY – open and loving relationships with a partner, family and friends
• HEALTH – the ability and desire to maintain a strong and healthy body (free from destructive and addictive habits)
• CONFIDENCE – trust in his feelings, thoughts and abilities
• DISCERNMENT – the ability to make his own thoughtful decisions in all matters
• INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY – excitement about tackling new experiences, thoughts, and problems
After reviewing this list, I had to ask myself two questions:
1) If obedience is not the number quality I want to instill in my child, then is it the best thing to insist on right now? This was a bit of a no-brainer once I really thought about it. I need to model and teach my child to have the qualities NOW that I hope for him in the future.
2) What is the best way to instill the qualities I do want? I only needed to look to the extensive research done by John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. The answer was clear — become my child’s emotional coach.
In the role of emotional coach, a parent teaches their child strategies to deal with the emotional challenges of life. They don’t object to, or ignore, their child’s displays of anger, sadness, or fear. Instead, they accept negative emotions as a fact of life, and most importantly, they see their child’s big emotions as opportunities to teach valuable life lessons and build a closer relationship.
Children whose parents consistently practice Emotion Coaching have better physical health and score higher academically than children whose parents don’t offer such guidance. These kids get along better with friends, have fewer behavior problems, and are less prone to acts of violence. Over all, children who are Emotion-Coached experience fewer negative feelings and more positive feelings. In short, they’re more healthy emotionally. ~J. Gottman
Did you happen to notice how well these qualities match up with those I want for my child? I DID. And I wanted to know, EXACTLY what do I do to become an emotional coach for my child? (After all, talking about emotions doesn’t come naturally or easily to everyone!)
There are five steps to emotional coaching:
1. Become aware of the child’s emotion;
2. Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for teaching and intimacy;
3. Listen with empathy, validating the child’s feelings;
4. Help the child find words to label the emotion he is having; and
5. Set limits while exploring strategies together to solve the problem.
You’ll note that becoming your child’s emotional coach, does not mean becoming permissive and letting the child do whatever they want. After all, I still need to get my son into his shoes and out the door for school on time.
But, I have noticed that whenever I am able to meet my child’s resistance with empathy and a true curiosity about his feelings and needs, we are much more quickly able to reach a mutually agreeable solution.
We both get what we want—in the present moment and twenty years down the road. Win-win and win!
Leave a comment below and let us know what values you want to instill in your kids and how you do it? I’d love to hear from you!