Becoming an emotion coach for your kids is not an easy thing, but it’s the best gift you can give your children to set them up for success in life.
As a parent of 3 wonderful and highly energetic boys, I can honestly say that kids can test my emotional maturity every minute of the day. They test my patience, my honesty, my sense of responsibility, my perseverance, my wisdom, and pretty much every other virtue I’m supposed to have and model as a parent. I think I get it right about 75% of the time with the help of a psychology degree and a very long purposeful journey of becoming a more emotionally intelligent person.
If you follow my posts, you already know that my chronic anxiety pushed me into a graduate degree in clinical psychology in my mid-20s. The knowledge of how I got there, how my genetic background and the family messages I grew up with sent me on a search for a better path to anxiety management.
But it was becoming a mother that prompted me into taking action and making changes that extended beyond anxiety management. They extended into relationship skills, communication, parenting, executive skills in the workplace, and most of all inner peace (not to sound like Po from Kung Fu Panda, an all-time favorite).
I grew up being deeply conditioned to avoid emotions, that emotions are a sign of weakness, that children have no right to express disagreement, sadness, anger, or fear. All in the name of making me stronger. And it worked, on the outside. But it also came at the high price of many internal battles such as poor self-awareness, lots of anger, negative self-talk, poor sense of connection with others, limited empathy skills…I can keep going, but you get the idea.
The point is that it all changed when my first son was born. As I was going through all the psych books in my grad program at that time, I noticed a huge discrepancy between what research was showing, what healthy emotional parenting looked like and what I grew up with. By the way, this is not to cast blame on my parents or grandparents. They did not know any better. There were no resources at that time, and most importantly, this was passed on from generation to generation. None of them grew up in a warm and fuzzy family interested in emotion coaching their kids.
But I knew I had to do something different in order to change this generational cycle of emotional challenges. I knew I had to become emotional savvy myself in order to be able to coach my kids through it. This is a little more difficult to achieve. I knew the theory from reading the books and writing papers on the topic, but feeling it and putting into action was much harder than I thought. It’s been a work in progress with many challenges in the last 12 years.
But for now, I just want to plant the seed for you and others that may relate to my story.
I just want to give you 3 reasons why you should consider emotional intelligence and emotion coaching for you and your kids and to make it as important as the food, clothes, or toys we buy for them:
According to Daniel Goleman, the father of emotional intelligence, “family life is our first school for emotional learning”. Research shows that even more than the traditional IQ, emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings (yours and others) will determine your success and happiness in all areas of life. Don’t just think money! Think of success in terms of relationships, friendships, parenting, making connections, and having productive hobbies.
Emotional intelligence will give you better tools for disciplining and motivating your kids. Spanking (which I am not a fan of), yelling, and taking toys away may work in the moment, but it does not give them the tools to do the right thing when you are not around, when they go to college, or when they are out on their own.
Poor thinking and poor choices can get one in trouble, but it’s usually not knowing how to handle negative and unpleasant emotions that often lead us to the poor choices. Emotional coaching can help them and yourself come up with better coping skills that will lead to better choices. As a therapist, I can’t tell you how many times I see how a negative, unbearable feeling can turn one back to a string of adult choices that involve alcohol, smoking, drugs, overeating, or overspending which are all unhealthy coping mechanisms.
What does emotional intelligence coaching involve?
Listening to yourself and others.
Identifying how your body feels (tension, aches, pain, unease).
Identifying a cause.
Labeling the emotion.
Pausing the emotion.
Thinking through the best alternatives of action.
Identifying healthy ways to make us feel better and restore balance.
You do this for yourself first! Then you model it and coach your child.
Just like being on a plane: you put your oxygen mask first, and then you help your child. There’s a reason for that. In the middle of their fear, temper tantrum, confusion, and resistance, you have to stay CALM. And you can’t do that unless you have your oxygen mask on.
More importantly, you put your ego aside! Kids’ behaviors and reactions are not purposeful to make you feel bad and angry. They are doing it because they don’t know how to handle their emotions in response to environmental stressors.
Being a parent is the best lifelong role. It’s the most exhausting, draining, challenging role. Mentally, emotionally, physically. It applies to one kid, and even more so when there are multiples. Good parenting involved providing adequate food and shelter for physical development, learning and social opportunities for mental development. And it absolutely needs to include emotion coaching for emotional development.
But this last part is not as easy. The majority of us did not grow with emotionally savvy parents. Hard times taught people that emotions are a sign of weakness. And of course, as adults, now we know that ignoring emotions will not make them go away. Our childhood trauma and lack of emotional coaching did not only create problems for us as adults, but they will create problems for your children as well….unless, you decide that it all stops with you!
The first step is to make it a goal to step up your emotional intelligence game.
I am proud of the progress I’ve made as a mother and of course, as a therapist. And I am super passionate about this topic and about helping others see the benefits. That’s why I created a 5-day free email series to get others started on this journey. For more information and to sign up for the From Emotionally Challenged To Emotionally Savvy, check out this link.
And if you are not ready for either, I hope you can take a few minutes and comment below on what your experience has been growing up. How would you rate the emotion coaching you received growing up and how do you think it has affected you as an adult today, in a relationship or at work?
ABOUT: Dr. Ruxandra LeMay is a licensed psychologist with experience and interest in communication, relationships, stress and anxiety management, executive coaching and entrepreneurship. She is the author of My Spouse Wants More Sex Than Me: The 2-Minute Solution For a Happier Marriage and My Spouse is Different Than Me: How to Mediate Irreconcilable Differences and Grow in Your Marriage. For more information, join her at ruxandralemay.com, a website for people who hate therapy, but still need it!