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Emotion Coaching: What's up?
Here’s the story
Paidea, Lynn’s child development center is open from 6:45 AM to 6:00 PM. Within those hours the school day runs from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. The rule is that during the non-school hours children can have a toy from home to share with all of their friends or to play with by themselves. But at 9:00 AM all home toys are tucked away in a child’s cubby until the end of school. On this morning Jacob had brought his favorite dinosaur. When his teachers told him the school day was about to begin and it was time to put away the dinosaur Jacob threw a fit. That’s when Lynn walked in. “You really want your dinosaur,” she offered.
Jacob protested, “It’s not a home toy.”
“Oh, is that dinosaur for everyone?” Lynn asked. “If it’s only for you, it’s a home toy. Paidea toys are for everyone.”
“It’s mine!” Jacob insisted.
“Oh, then it’s a home toy,” Lynn clarified.
And then she simply paused, letting it sink in for a moment before continuing, “It’s yours so do you want me to put it in my office or in the parent mailbox to keep it safe until you can play with it again?”
Jacob thought for a moment before replying, “The parent mailbox,” then walked with Lynn to place it there.
Seeking understanding doesn’t require convincing your child he is wrong.
Nor does it necessitate that he agree with you, which would likely just escalate the situation. It’s simply a process of understanding what your child is thinking or feeling. Listening does not mean “giving in.”
Often we sort of seek understanding, but not really.
By saying things like, “You really don’t want to put your coat on right now, BUT it’s time to leave.” Your child knows you are not really listening and just gets angrier. But if you simply say, “I see you didn’t want to put your coat on,” and PAUSE, your child knows you understand. Intensity drops and now you can work together.
As you move forward, you set the boundaries and then offer a choice.
So you might say, “Do you want to do it by yourself or would you like me to help you?” “Would you like to walk up to your bedroom or would you like me to carry you?” (If your child disagrees we will tell you how to respond in our next blog post, but the reality is that more frequently than you would ever expect he will happily comply.)
How can you discover what’s up, stay connected and establish clear rules?
1. Stay tuned in. When you are with your child pay attention to what’s happening. You’ll know he had wanted a toy, or that someone just hurt his feelings, making it much easier to ask your clarifying questions.
2. Don’t be afraid to use a little humor. “Are you mad because there are no elephants in the yard?” makes a preschooler laugh. Laughter brings down the intensity.
3. Stay connected. Through your body language and voice tone let your child know you really do want to know what is upsetting him. He’ll feel the connection and calm.
4. Avoid getting pulled in. The other day I was attempting to be an emotion coach and got yanked right into a power struggle. I called Lynn. “Help me understand what just happened. I just lost it!” That’s when she reminded me. Listening doesn’t mean you are going to give up anything that is important to you. My blood pressure dropped precipitously!
5. Predict the tough times of the day. If you stop and think about them, you know them, like getting up in the morning, going out the door, or arriving home. Slow down, especially during transitions from one thing to another. By stopping to understand what’s up, you’ll save time in the long run.
6. Plan your response. Often we are “caught” in the moment with little time to think. That’s why it’s so important to have in mind a standard phrase you’ll use. Like, “What’s up?” Or, “I will help you. What do you need?” Or, “I can tell you really want…” Or, “What were you thinking should happen?”
7. Be problem-solvers. When you stop to seek understanding first, your child knows you are listening and have come to help. That’s when you can move into being a problem-solving family.