The holidays are an exciting time for both parents and kids. We set our expectations high, filling our calendar with trips to the pumpkin patch, sledding, holiday parties, and more—all in the name of giving our children a rich holiday experience.
In all the excitement, parents sometimes forget that changes to routines (like bedtime and meal time), extra or unfamiliar people, excess sugar from holiday sweets, and anticipation of gifts or treats can create stress for our children. In fact, all of the above also creates stress for us parents, too!.
The holiday season can be hard on children and parents – for all the fun, people can also be stressed, overwhelmed and grumpy. But emotion coaching can help both you and your child navigate the holiday season with ease.
What is emotion coaching?
Simply put, emotion coaching is a parenting technique that helps teach your child about their feelings—what they are, how they work, and how to respond in healthy ways to things that upset them.
Emotion coaching in the moment
When children are upset on the outside [crying, flailing on the floor, stomping feet], it’s because something is going on inside—not because they are trying to ruin your holiday. Often these “big feelings” are confusing and even frightening to a child.
Children do enjoy parties, gifts, costumes, etc., but can get overwhelmed easily by the excitement of it all.
The next time your child starts to get upset, try these emotion-coaching steps:
- Acknowledge your child’s emotion. Avoid criticizing or dismissing their feelings: “It looks like you’re feeling upset about having to leave Grandma’s house. It’s frustrating to leave when you are having fun.”
- Listen and validate your child’s feelings. Some parents think that if you listen when a child has an upset or comfort them that you are “rewarding” bad behavior. In fact, it’s the opposite. You can teach better behavior and strategies when you have comforted and connected with your child first. This step can be challenging for parents because we want to jump right in with solutions. Practice reflective listening—a lot!—with a partner, co-worker, with your child. Simply state back to them what you are hearing them say.
- Help your child develop an emotional vocabulary. If your child is unable to name their emotion, you can say something like “I see that your fists are clenched and your eyebrows are all scrunched. I’m wondering if you feel mad right now.”
- Problem-solve and remember that you can still set limits while you validate emotions! Talk about solutions together, such as healthy ways to let off steam or calm down.
Keep in mind that children can’t learn in the moment of upset. In the moment of upset, our number one job is to help calm the child and connect with them. From that place of a calm body and brain—as well as a connection with a trusted caregiver—a child is open to learning new skills.
Emotion coaching also involves thinking ahead
Sometimes prevention is the best medicine. Think about what might be challenging for your child, such as attending a party during their usual naptime, going on too many outings in one day, or having too many visitors over.
As parents, we are not superhuman and cannot emotion coach 100% of the time. The goal of emotion coaching isn’t to parent perfectly in every situation. But you can be a good coach to your child as they navigate the holidays.
This article appeared in the October 28, 2019 edition of the Register-Guard.
About the Authors
Sarah Lame is the Parenting Now!’s First Three Years Program Manager. Amanda Bedortha is Parenting Now!’s Communications Coordinator.