Beyond Emotion Coaching-Listening For Your Child’s Needs

Because children aren’t just small adults, listening to a child is a unique skill. Not knowing this can get parents and kids off to a rocky start.

In fact, very often when adults wonder why their child doesn’t listen to them, one explanation might be that the child is simply modeling the listening they’ve received. Oops!

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.01.31 PM← This is a terrifically helpful book on the subject of listening to your child, and it’s based on (to my mind) an even more wonderful book, Between Parent and Child, by Haim Ginott.

Both books speak to the importance of ~

  • listening for the emotions behind a child’s words or behaviors;
  • naming the emotions as your child experiences them;
  • listening empathically – which means avoiding the denying, minimizing, interrogating, pitying, defending the other person, advising, teaching, philosophizing and all the other things we do to manage our own discomfort when we are asked to simply be present to someone else.

Reading these books will help you become an emotion coach to your child, and studies show how emotion coaching helps cultivate emotionally intelligent kids. And, for success in life these days, EQ counts.

Here’s my favorite contemporary researcher talking about EQ.  John Gottman writes:

Emotional intelligence means being able to read your own and other’s emotions, and being able to respond to the emotions of others in a cooperative, functional, and empathetic manner. Emotional intelligence is a kind of social “moxie” or “savvy” about even very complex social situations. It requires knowing who you are, knowing your own feelings, knowing your own needs, and being able to handle yourself and compromise these needs with the needs of sometimes very complex social situations. EQ (Emotional intelligence) is a much better predictor of how children will turn out than IQ or achievement test scores.

(For the whole article, click → EMOTIONALLY_INTELLIGENT_CHILDREN_Updated2 )

So its good stuff, right!

However, since great resources for emotion coaching already exist, and since I have experienced an even deeper level of listening – both as a child and a parent – I’m here with two questions to push a little deeper:

  • What is it that sets good-enough listening apart from great listening?
  • What does it take to go further than emotion-coaching your child?

Remember yourself as a kid?

Screen shot 2015-05-27 at 2.48.04 PM

Were there some adults with whom you could share your thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, stories, and even your slip ups?

And others who could hardly drag a civil response from you?

What was it about the adults you talked to?

My guess is they checked some of these boxes for you.

When you were with them, you felt ~

  • safe but not smothered
  • exhilarated but not frightened
  • loved but not controlled
  • significant but not in a way that gave you false airs
  • capable but not burdened by expectations
  • inspired but not pressured

Sure these qualities speak to an emotional sensitivity on the part of the adult listener. But there’s more there, and cracking that nut will help you become not just a good enough listener, but a great listener. The sort of listener a child (whether a just-verbal toddler or an articulate teen) will joyfully and consistently turn to because~

  • not only do you listen
  • not only do you help the youngster understand him or herself more fully,
  • but your listening actually helps the child meet one or more of their deepest human needs.

I’m drawing upon Tony Robbin’s work on core human needs. Here are the six as he identifies them:

Screen shot 2015-05-27 at 1.02.13 PM

So – what does “beyond emotion-coaching” look like in the midst of real life?

Four-year old Ian comes running up to you from the sand box at the park where he’s been playing with some other kids using his shovel and pail. He is now empty-handed and screaming.

First – be his emotion coach. There are 3 steps.

1)  Listen for the emotions behind a child’s words or behaviors;

Quietly assess what you see – a kid formerly engaged in sand play now running to you empty-handed and screaming … you can begin to guess what might haven gone down.

2)  Name the emotion;

“Ian, looks to me like you’re super angry and maybe sad too?

3)  Offer empathic listening.

Tell me, what happened?

Now you just listen. Pop him on your knee if you want, or crouch down and hold his hands. Look him in the eye and let him unburden all the yukky stuff he’s feeling. Probably some other kid took his things and he feels helpless, angry, frustrated, alone. Listen until you can see he feels fully heard. Keep helping him find names for his emotions, guiding as you go.

If, for example, Ian says “I hate that kid – he took my shovel” show him it’s OK for him to express his emotions to you, but notice the difference between parroting “You hate that kid

and

Right now you’re so mad at the kid who took your shovel you feel you hate him.”

See how the first example seems to set in stone that Ian hates the kid, whilst the second example places the emotion in the specific context of the situation so the person with the emotion can be seen to own the emotion – not the other way around!

The two books I recommend above have so much great information on how to listen in such a way that your child feels heard. This IS subtle work, but you can master this.

But now here comes the “beyond emotion-coaching” part.

Second, help him meet his deepest needs.

Knowing Ian as you do, what does Ian NEED right now?

And can you use your understanding of Ian’s needs  – not just his developmental needs although those of course are in the mix, but his needs as a unique, particular human being – to help guide the next step?

Here’s the list of our core 6 human needs once more:

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Connection & Love
  • Significance
  • Contribution
  • Growth

So, back to little Ian who’s been able to share all his yukky feelings about the shovel and pail incident. Now what?

Does Ian need a bit more certainty, predictability and security?

Has Ian experienced a lot of change lately? Maybe a trip? New sibling? A move? A divorce?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that creates a bit more stability in his life? In the midst of uncertainty, a child needs certainty. This would not be the day to push him to share, or use his words to negotiate turn taking.

It might be a good day to find a place where Ian could count on having his shovel and pail to himself, with some calm and predictability.

Or, does Ian need a bit more variety, surprise and novelty?

Have things been in a bit of a rut for Ian? Does he play here a lot and often come to blows?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that opens up some exhilarating new ways for him to relate with this other kid, or with this predicament of his toys being taken without his permission? Or even with his response to the fact his toys get used by other kids?

It might be a good day to brainstorm with Ian to find all sorts of ways to respond to the situation. It might be great to get playful and fun and resourceful.

Or, does Ian need to feel more love and connection with you, or someone else in his life?

Have things been a bit rocky for Ian and his relationships? Has he been running to you screaming a lot and maybe you’re getting irritated and he feels this? Is grandma playing with his new baby sister and he’s feeling left-out and second best?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that builds connection and love.

It might be a good day to see if Ian would like to play with you a bit? Or it might be a good time for a huge hug and snuggle before he goes back to the sand box.

Or, does Ian need to experience himself as significant in your eyes? In his own eyes?

Has Ian been going through a bit of a regression developmentally so adults have been doing more for him and you sense he needs to reclaim his power a bit?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that offers him a chance to be brave and creative.

It might be a good day to remind Ian of some prior brave creative thing he did (or of a character in a story he admires) and see if he’d like to find a way to be that boy again in the sand box?

Or, does Ian need to contribute a bit today?

Have you noticed Ian trying to be helpful but not quite getting the thanks and recognition he might be craving? His attempts often fall short (since he’s only four!) but he’s often saying “I’m a big boy now!”

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that offers him a chance to contribute? Maybe the solution involves thinking about how “big boys” might figure out what to do about two boys who want the same shovel and pail?

Or, is it time for Ian to be inspired to grow a little?

Does Ian have a pretty good life? Do things usually go well? Is he emotionally stable and loved? Could he handle a bit of a push?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that inspires in him an opportunity to grow into a bigger, kinder Ian. What might that look like? Could he lend his toys? Could he give them away?

 * * * * * *

No matter the age of your child, this pattern of emotion coaching – followed by a deeply wise recognition of where the child’s needing-edge might be – will deliver to the two of you a connection built upon so much mutual trust, respect and delight that you will be, to your child,  a uniquely satisfying resource.  One he or she will turn to again, and again.

When s/he grows up, and someone asks , “Who could you turn to when you were young? Was there someone special whom you felt really heard you, really understood you?”

Your child will not hesitate, but will be able to turn with confidence and say

“Yes, absolutely. It was X. And do you know  why? Well, when I was with them, I felt ~

  • safe but not smothered
  • exhilarated but not frightened
  • loved but not controlled
  • significant but not in a way that gave me false airs
  • capable but not burdened by expectations
  • inspired but not pressured

WOW ~ What a legacy!

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

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