If you were in Vegas, and knew the odds of winning a particular game was 1 in 10,000 – how much money would you put down? Would you put down $7 billion? That’s how much money we have been spending on just travel alone related to youth sports in the country. The odds of a high school basketball player making it to the NBA is only 1 in 10,000, and yet parents spends thousands of dollars signing their kids up for organized sports clubs with the hope that their kid will be the next Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, or Mia Hamm. A whopping 35 million kids each year are part of organized sports in the U.S. And its not just sports, parents fork over the greens on music classes, art academy, tutoring, dance, camp… the list could go on.
Why? I’m sure the reasons will vary – ranging from dreams of having their child go to Harvard or getting a sports scholarship – but the bottom line is that parents are very willing to pay for coaches who will help their children achieve success in society.
But what about investing in a coach to teach our kids about their own emotions? We focus so much on extracurricular activities, but who is tutoring our kids about life’s ups and downs and how to deal with them? Do we as parents even consider our kids emotions as something to develop and invest in, like a golf swing or a drum beat?
One obvious type of emotional coach is a therapist. Life is a roller coaster filled with a lot of excitement as well as a lot of pain. And our kids can experience an enormous amount of hardships. I know of some students that are dealing with some heavy issues such as broken families, cutting themselves, depression, thoughts of suicide and struggles with their own sexual identity. These issues can be intense and often benefit from professional therapists who can help kids navigate through these emotional complexities.
But another type of emotional coach is YOU – the parent. How should we view and approach everyday situations and emotions that kids go through? For instance, a child is sad when her parents drop her off at daycare. Or a teenager breaks curfew because he is upset with his parents’ rules. A kid silently rebels and doesn’t do the chores her mom asked her to do.
How do parents normally handle these types of everyday moments? Often parents dismiss their kids’ feelings because, let’s face it – kids are often illogical and rebellious. So while disciplining their actions, it is easy to ignore and minimize the importance of their emotions. As a result, kids may often hear things like “stop crying, don’t be sad, don’t be such a baby, don’t complain, and it’s not that bad.”
I’ve said many of these things as a parent myself – it is so natural to respond in this way, and doesn’t seem like a bad way to handle the situation. These words convey how we want them to behave, so what’s wrong with that? Isn’t responding in any other way just giving into their mood swings and tantrums, which will make them spoiled?
I’ve found that it is easy for me not to even consider or acknowledge the emotions verbally. It doesn’t even cross my mind to do so. If my kid is crying because she wants to play and not take a nap, it is natural for me to respond to her demands with an equivalent counter. “No, you need to nap. No, listen to me. You need to listen. No you can’t play.” What she is feeling doesn’t even come up in the conversation because – why should it? I already know she is not happy, but my job is to provide her with structure and give her the nap she needs. What’s the point in talking about how she is feeling? It’s not going to change my decision on the need for her to take a nap.
But the question is this: are these interactions and conversations helping our kids learn about their emotions and how to handle them in a healthy way? Is it giving our kids the tools to overcome their tantrums? Or are our kids repeating the same behaviors and it’s turning into a pattern?
John Gottman, the relationship expert, did research on 119 families and found out that there are two types of parents: those that help their kids handle life issues and those that don’t. He calls these parents “emotion coaches”— parents that give strategies to help their kids with these daily emotional moments. Parent that do emotion coaching do not avoid or dismiss negative emotions. Rather, they see these emotions as “opportunities for intimacy.” Helping your child to handle the stress and emotions allows for a deeper bond and connection between parent and child.
The benefits of emotion coaching is tremendous. Gottman’s research shows that kids who had parents as emotion coaches performed better academically, had stronger relationships and friends, healthier and had less behavioral issues. These kids were usually able to adapt to difficult issues in their family such as divorce better than kids without parents as emotion coaches. Emotional coaching empowers the child to make decisions to handle most of life’s circumstances. They become more resilient and flexible which leads to greater emotional health and success in life.
So what exactly is an emotional coach and how do we become one? Check out my next blog post to learn the Gottman’s five steps to emotion coaching. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a parent for 1 day or 10 years, these are tools that you can use to help connect with your children and help them succeed in mastering the things that go on inside of them. You don’t have to pay someone to coach or tutor them. With the right tools and love, you have the ability to help your children become emotionally healthy and stable in an often chaotic and complex world.