We are not born with the language to explain how we are feeling. We know how to express our distress or our needs through gestures, sound and facial expressions. As we develop we expand our repertoire of gestures, sound and facial expressions and find that some get our needs met more efficiently than others. Screaming, hitting, biting sometimes work for us as children when the adults around us give us what we want. In this way we learn that certain behaviour results in our needs being met, despite the negative effect it may have on those around us.
Emotion Coaching - start early
Emotion coaching is when you label for your child the emotion that they are feeling. This builds their emotional vocabulary. Many children, and adults, have a limited range of words to express their feelings. While young children may start with happy, sad and mad it is important to develop your child's language so they begin to associate certain internal sensations with an appropriate word. Over time your child will begin to be able to name their emotions for themselves. There is a saying, "Name it to tame it". Articulating our emotions is the first step towards emotion regulation. Having a broad range of vocabulary and understanding the nuances of emotions can also help build empathy, for oneself and others.
The Value of Validation
Emotion coaching is a way of validating the full range of human emotions. I believe that people have more difficulty with emotions when they are forced to shut certain emotions down. When we are shamed for having certain feelings, when only certain feelings are 'allowed' we are shutting down aspects of ourselves. This is not to say that all behaviours that occur as a result of the emotion are okay, but we can attempt to name and validate the feelings without validating the behaviour.
When parents ask me about what to do with their children who are having difficulty with explosive, angry outbursts I often recommend emotion coaching. While I can work with children to help with emotional regulation I also work with parents to help them understand the power of emotion coaching and how it will change their relationship with their child.
If you'd like to find out more about how emotion coaching can help you and your child with their emotional regulation, please give me a call.