Being an emotion coach isn’t easy. Children are emotional beings, vacillating between intense swings in emotions without warning. That’s why the role of emotionally intelligent parents is not to control these uncontrollable emotions, but to coach their child on how these emotions can exist without controlling us. As Dr. Gottman says in his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,
“[Emotion coach parents] don’t object to their children’s displays of anger, sadness, or fear. Nor do they ignore them. Instead, they accept negative emotions as a fact of life and they use emotional moments as opportunities for teaching their kids important life lessons and building closer relationships with them.”
Being emotion coach parents is no easy task, but the rewards are immense. If you want to know how important being emotion coach parents is, take a look at this recent study. It essentially confirms Dr. Gottman’s theories that parents who are emotion coaches raise children who become people with high emotional intelligence.
One way to make sure we’re practicing emotion coaching is by adding everyday phrases to our vocabulary that will help in different situations. Whether you’re struggling with a toddler’s tantrum or a teenager’s angst, these 5 phrases teach emotional intelligence and will help everyone keep their emotions manageable and foster deeper household communication and understanding.
1. This Feeling Isn’t Forever/This Too Shall Pass
Now here’s a phrase that teaches emotional intelligence and is loaded with history and meaning, which is why I thought it would be perfect to start out our list. “This too shall pass” apparently originated from Medieval Persian Sufi poets as they confronted the impermanence of life and the human condition. As if that wasn’t enough, the phrase and the story of its origins was recounted in a speech by Abraham Lincoln, one of the United State’s greatest leaders. Addressing the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in 1859, he shared the phrase as one he particularly cherished because of its ability to lift the spirits of those in pain and ground the attitude of the fortunate.
And that’s exactly where the value of this phrase can be found. Emotions are powerful and can completely hijack our behaviors and attitudes, but they are temporary and can change just as quickly as they surfaced. When we’re especially young, however, they don’t feel temporary. Emotions can feel like they’re going to last forever, which can lead to extreme frustration and even worsen these outbursts. Parents who repeat the phrase, “This feeling isn’t forever.” can expect their child to connect with the words and the sounds in a way that comforts them and gives them perspective on their emotional state.
2. I’ll Be Here When You Need Me
Confrontation is one of the most difficult components of being emotion coach parents. Nobody likes having to confront someone about their behaviors, especially when emotions get involved and people feel hurt. Many of the most emotionally intelligent people understand this and leave space and time for emotions to die down before they tackle these issues head on. It’s not about avoiding confrontation entirely, but instead making sure to engage in these discussions at the best time and with clear heads. Let’s look at a parenting example that teaches emotional intelligence with this phrase.
Mama Bea knows that her son, James, is in a delicate mood. He just had a big soccer game and he allowed the winning goal to score for the other team. Even though his teammates and coaches were supportive and had his back, he can’t help but feel like he let them all down with his performance. When he gets home from the match, he is clearly distraught and looks like he might burst into tears at any moment. Mama Bea gives him a hug and without calling too much attention to what happened says, “Let me know if you want to talk about it. I’ll be here when you need me.”
James nods, heads up to his room, and that’s it, the elephant in the room is gone. He now has a chance to release his emotions however he wants. He can let his tears fall if he needs to without worrying about embarrassment and compose himself to talk about what happened, should he choose to. Instead of forcing him to confront his emotions in front of her, Mama Bea allows James to approach them on his terms in a way that will help him understand better what it means to struggle and pick yourself back up again.
3. Let’s Think Through This One Together
Much in the same vein as the last phrase, this phrase teaches emotional intelligence by setting aside time to be attentive, helpful, and real emotion coach parents with our children. Being a tween or teen can especially feel so lonely. Your body is changing, your mind is shaping, and oftentimes this can lead to a lot of uncertainty. Dropping grades, problems making friends, bullying, these are just a few of the typical problems that kids face during this transitional period. As emotion coach parents, it’s our job to simply listen to what they’re going through and not rush in to try to fix everything on our own. Even though we may know from experience what our children are going through, we need to include them in decisions made about them if we want them to develop their own independence.
So if a child begins to struggle in a subject that they’ve never struggled in previously, this can be a sign that something more is going on. Approaching this problem directly isn’t always the best solution as kids can be hesitant to admit what’s going on, but that’s when the phrase “Let’s think through this one together” can be so helpful. When we use this phrase, our kids know that we are trying to include them in this conversation and letting them have a say in their future. It can be so freeing to know that one’s parents aren’t focused on micromanaging every aspect of their lives, but are instead simply aware of and interested the changes in behavior out of concern for the child’s wellbeing. This perspective shift may be hard for many parents, but it’s closely tied into scaffolding, or controlled failure, something I’ve covered before in this article here.
4. Let’s Pause For a Second
Parents are not mind readers and don’t have access to a crystal ball to know the future. Parents often fail to see problems developing until it’s too late for early intervention. When this happens, it can often lead to periods of high emotional tension even resulting in explosive emotional outbursts, especially when a parent feels blindsided by a situation that arises. This in turn can lead to people saying hurtful things and/or feelings being hurt and feelings of regret may follow afterwards. Emotion coach parents cannot foresee everything, but they can tell when things are getting emotional and people are getting close to saying and doing things they will regret later on.
Out of awareness, wWhen we begin to sense this feeling, we need to utilize the phrase “Let’s pause for a second” in order to prevent this emotional hijack from happening. This pause is so important because it is so much easier to allow everyone the space to think things through than it is to repair the damage done by words said in the heat of the moment. By giving everyone the chance to breathe, we can begin to unpack what is causing these high emotions and defuse them before they turn into something nasty. This phrase is one of the most important of the 5 phrases that teach emotional intelligence because it is our best preventative medicine during times of distress.
5. It’s Okay to Feel Your Feelings, But it’s Not Okay to Take Them Out on Others
This phrase could be examined in two parts, both equally important. “It’s okay to feel your feelings” is an idea that has unfortunately only recently gained widespread acceptance and still faces denial to this day. How many of you out there grew up hearing things like “I’ll give you something to really cry about if you keep that up,” or, “children should be seen, not heard?” These phrases are meant to give parents control by dismissing the emotions and thoughts of children, regardless of how valid they are. There was no arguing with these phrases as the result for challenging them was often punishment or scolding. Only recently has it become more acceptable to validate children’s emotions and we have years of child psychology and research to back up this style of emotion coach parents.
The second part of this phrase is just as important as it addresses a very valid critique of “It’s okay to feel your feelings.” The critique is that not all feelings feel good and if we let them all dictate our behaviors and attitudes, then we will inevitably say and do things that are not in our best interest or the best interest of others. That’s why the complete phrase is “It’s okay to feel your feelings, but it’s not okay to take them out on others” and I will add “… or yourself” to that phrase as well.
Emotions are great and it’s healthy to express them, but they can also be dangerous when they begin to spiral out of our control. Introspection is important for creativity, problem-solving, and goal-setting, but when introspection runs amuck it can turn into things like depression, anxiety, and over-self-awareness. That’s why the goal of emotional intelligence is not to just give us the space to feel our feelings and validate our emotions, but also to manage these emotions and discover within ourselves how to best let them into our lives so that they have the chance to live, but not control us. It’s a long journey getting to that point and you could even say it’s a lifelong pursuit, but it is so important to begin coaching your children on this starting from day one and this phrase will go a long way to helping with that.
If you couldn’t have already guessed this, being a parent is one of the toughest, most rewarding jobs in the world. Life throws everything it can at us and every day we’re expected to roll with the punches and keep adapting. If recent years have taught us anything, it’s that mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and emotion coaching are all keys to a successful, resilient, and emotionally intelligent home. By using these 5 phrases to teach emotional intelligence around the house, you can help continue your child’s SEL education at home and hopefully give them the tools they need to succeed in the future. Have you tried any of these phrases? If so, how did they go for you and what else do you suggest trying? Let me know in the comments below and have a fantastic week out there!