Over the holidays, we had lot of emotions at our house, and I bet you did too. I want to give you a resource this month to help manage your family’s emotions better in the year ahead. The first resource is a strategy called – EMOTION COACHING.
EMOTION COACHING is a strategy that uses a set of skills designed to help kids and teens develop and practice emotional regulation – the ability to hold it together or recover when feelings get big.
Littles with emotional regulation issues might throw toys and throw tantrums. Middles will slam doors, tell you they hate you and possibly self-injure or restrict eating. And Bigs with emotional regulation issues might shut down and isolate, bury themselves in electronics or turn to substance use to cope with stress, pain, anger or loss.
One model of EMOTION COACHING is a great framework for day-to-day interactions in your family (and can even be effective with your spouse, or at work). Here are the 3 STEPS:
Step one is about validating (acknowledging) your person’s feelings. We use language to transform by changing “BUT” to “BECAUSE”. For example, when your Middle tells you she doesn’t get included in social events and doesn’t have any friends, a typical response like, “It might feel like that now but you will make friends if you keep trying.”
An EMOTION COACHING response would sound like, “It feels like that now because it seems like everyone is having fun without you.”
It can take a while to get this skill down, so just start practicing this BECAUSE phrasing and then stay quiet. See what happens AND don’t say “BUT”!
After acknowledging the feeling, then it is necessary to meet the need of that emotion. Every emotion has a specific emotional need. If someone is feeling angry, they might need help communicating what they need (e.g., space, or to feel heard). If someone feels anxious, they might need reassurance or help doing some calming breathing. But providing reassurance without first validating a feeling can be like kissing someone in the dark – you HOPE it is the right person but you are not completely sure!
So you might say, “It feels like that now because it seems like everyone is having fun without you. I love you. Would it help to have a hug?”
Finally, it is time for problem solving, but don’t rush to this step if things aren’t going as smoothly as the above example. If you get resistance, go back to STEP ONE and keep working on the validating. Maybe you got it wrong, or maybe there is more of the story to hear. Don’t be discouraged. This is a new style of communicating for your family, and it can take practice.
Let us know how it goes, and talk to your child’s therapist – or your own – for more tips and help.
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