People, they will be there and then they won’t.
They will see you
They we know you
They will surprise you
They will grow you.
People will delight you
Maybe even excite you.
They will see you
And want to be with you.
They will sadden you
They will let you down
They will lift you up
They will borrow from you
They will take from you
They will give to you.
People will challenge you
They will inspire you
They will enlighten you
They will love you
They will exceed all expectation.
They will walk with you
They will guide you
Stand by you
Be a light for you
They will show you.
People, they will disappoint
They don’t mean to
They just will.
They will not hear you,
They will not see you
They will close their eyes
They won’t look at you,
They won’t see your pain.
They won’t mean to
They just will.
People will come and they will go
Some will matter and some won’t.
We are all just people
Miraculous and ordinary
We will love
We never really end
Our spirit transcends.
Dr Gemma Gladstone.
How do you move on with your life after losing someone precious to you?
If there is one word that perfectly encapsulates the feeling after someone close to you dies, that would be bereavement. Merriam-Webster defines the term as “the state or fact of being bereaved or deprived of something or someone.”
And although death is one of the grim realities of life, you might find it hard to accept recent events, regardless of whether the death of the person is sudden or expected (due to a lingering illness or old age).
It doesn’t help that most people do not speak about death and the issues usually associated with it. This leaves the people left behind with a vast chasm between what they know and the questions they need answered.
If you are experiencing grief after the loss of a loved one, a registered therapist offers some helpful tips that you can use at this moment of need.
Grief: A Brief Insight
People feel grief after going through a traumatic experience, the end of a relationship, a significant change in one’s life, and the loss of a loved one.
What is crucial to understand is that grieving is normal and a necessary process that you undergo to cope with the passing of a person who is dear to you. However, it is worthwhile to point out that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with your loss and grief.
People differ in the manner in which they process their grief, as well as in the length of time they experience this state. Some people can move on in a matter of weeks or months, while others may take longer. Factors like individual personality and how one copes with a loss can influence the length of the grieving process.
Five Stages of Grief
It is crucial to understand that there is no set timeline for the grieving process. There is no way to rush things, and you have to embrace the process in order for healing to take place fully.
Although there is no set timeframe for the grieving process, there are five stages of grief that you need to be aware of. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist, is credited for formulating the concept of these five stages. Initially, the idea was developed as the psychiatrist was studying terminally ill patients and their feelings.
The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is normal to experience all of these feelings. However, not everyone goes through all the stages of grief. Some people even have the ability to move on with their lives without going through the five stages.
It is also worthwhile to mention that a person’s response to a loss will differ from another’s.
You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup
As much as you would want to be the bedrock for your family and friends during this time of mourning, you first have to recognize your own grief before you can help others with theirs.
Instead of putting on a straight face and pretending you are strong, embrace your feelings. Trying to bury the emotions you feel can only complicate matters over the long run. This can lead to mental and physical problems.
Find a way to express your feelings. Consider writing a letter to the person that you lost, or collect his or her photos in a new album.
Resume your routines as soon as you can. Maintaining a sense of normalcy in your life will help you better cope with your loss and your emotions.
Take care of yourself, physically and mentally. Get enough rest and sleep, and make sure that you eat right. Resist the urge to turn to alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.
Be prepared for situations or occasions that may trigger your grief. These include anniversaries, birthday and other special events. Especially when you are celebrating them for the first time after the passing of your loved one.
Processing Grief Together
After the death of a loved one, you will need to rely on the people close to you for some measure of comfort during this time of need.
As you process your grief, there are a few things that you can do to help your family members and friends as they try to cope with their loss.
The most important thing that you can offer to someone is a listening ear. Encourage your loved ones to share their feelings and talk about the grief they are currently experiencing.
However, resist the temptation to offer the promise that things will get better soon, or to rationalise the demise of the loved one that you lost.
As you and your loved ones are trying to rebuild your lives, even the simplest of things can matter and help. Little things like babysitting little children or helping with chores are invaluable to someone who is grieving.
Helping kids cope with the loss of a loved one can be particularly tricky, especially if it is a parent who passed away.
As much as possible, use simple and concrete words to explain the situation. Be direct, honest, and patient in answering their questions.
Children manifest their grief physically. As such, adults must watch out for these manifestations and provide reassurance and comfort to them.
As with adults, kids can benefit immensely from the restoration of routines. Encourage your young ones to go back to their normal activities as soon as possible.
Seeking Professional Help
Grief and clinical depression are two distinct things that may be difficult to distinguish from each other.
The easiest way to distinguish one from the other is to remember that grieving involves a mixture of emotions. There will be days when you may feel low, as well as days when you begin to experience happiness. A person who is experiencing depression does not undergo the rollercoaster of emotions. He or she sinks into the abyss of despair and emptiness.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, make an appointment with a therapist here at Good Mood Clinic. We can help you during this time of need.
Most people have heard of ‘self-esteem’ and believe it is good to
have high self-esteem.
However, most people may not be aware that there are different types of self-esteem and some are more helpful than others.
Researchers have identified that individuals may have high self-esteem,
but if it is strongly tied to their circumstances then their sense of self-
worth is vulnerable to collapsing if those circumstances change. An
example would be a star football player who breaks their leg or when we
experience rejection. This can lead to depression and low mood. Another
effect of having this type of self-esteem – one that is based overly on your
success and achievements- is that it can drive anxiety, perfectionism,
overworking and burnout as we struggle to achieve a sense of worthiness.
So what can we do about it? Thankfully researchers have identified
healthier ways to develop high self-esteem and self-worth that is stable in
the face of life’s challenges. Through my own research I strongly feel that
the concept of ‘Self-Compassion’ provides a lovely road map for developing
this healthy version of self-esteem.
Self-compassion is the ability to meet ourselves with kindness,
caring and acceptance no matter what life throws at us. Through building
our self-compassion, we develop a sense of value and worthiness
irrespective of our achievements. Having high self-compassion liberates us
and provides us with a strong sense of self, and is the foundation for living
an empowered life.
If you would like to learn more about self-compassion and its role in
developing high healthy self-esteem book an appointment with me today.
People who are socially anxious tend to avoid social gatherings, places where they may feel judged by other people.
When they do have to attend a gathering they may try to avoid speaking to other people. Maybe you are introverted but have no trouble speaking to people on a one to one basis. Why? One of the reasons suggested by researchers is that it is easy to look them in the eye.
In a group situation paying attention to people is necessary so that you can know what is going right. When we are anxious we feel quite vulnerable and self-conscious however facing this fear being perfectly aware of how you might be hurt is an important step to overcoming your fear.
As you face this fear again and again you don’t necessarily get less afraid; you get braver. This approach of the uncertain is a tonic for self-esteem. You are able to view yourself as courageous and this is a comfort for you at times when you are feeling challenged.
Strategies to assist in overcoming social anxiety
Describe what it is you are afraid of.
- Relaxation and slow breathing to reduce the symptoms of anxiety such as rapid breathing, sweating and sometimes feeling sick.
What is your belief about the situation?
Anxiety is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self statements which become a habit such as the following.
Jumping to conclusions.
- We assume we know what someone else is thinking and a. we make predictions about what is going to happen in the future.
- When we blow things out of proportion and we regard the situation b. as terrible, awful even though in reality the situation is relatively minor.
- This way of thinking means that we ﬁlter in the negative parts of the c. picture and ﬁlter out the positive parts
- We label ourselves and others when we make global statements based on d. our behaviour in speciﬁc situations.
Challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts.
Approaching the situation that you fear rather than avoiding.
Being kind to yourself. Understand that this will take time.
Don’t punish your child for expressing how they feel.
“Is that your angry face?
I better not see that next time I look at you!”;
“Don’t be angry with me, I won’t have that!”;
“Don’t look so sad, cheer up, it’s not that bad”,
“Stop crying, there’s nothing to be upset about!”
Children have feelings too, don’t punish your child because you’re uncomfortable with negative feelings, because the ramifications (for you and them) are far too significant.
Too often parents punish children simply for having an emotion such as anger (or dismiss and deny their child’s more negative passive emotions such as sadness). They don’t like what the child is expressing or feeling, so they crack down hard on the emotion (but oh boy, is this a mistake that will come back to bite them, particularly if it’s done insidiously).
Discipline your children for their problematic behaviour only and NOT for their emotions (e.g., not for voicing their opinions, being grumpy, having an ‘unpleasant’ emotional outburst, or even stomping their feet and saying “I hate you”). Cracking down with harsh disapproval is an easy, knee-jerk reaction which will only get you in hot water down the track. Of course, if you respond this way routinely, your child will (sadly) learn to hold things back and internalise how they feel. This will ‘look’ like good, compliant behaviour on the surface, but it’s not, it’s simply a coping strategy that they learn in order to please you and avoid your disapproval (Yes, that’s right, parental disapproval is something that the majority of children will do almost anything to avoid).
So when parents ‘shut children down’ by punishing their child’s emotion, they are not actually creating a well-mannered, compliant little person, they are actually creating a shame-ridden and emotionally stifled child (who BTW is more likely to develop future emotional & relational problems). Let’s be straight, this is not permissive or Laissez-faire parenting where anything goes and you encourage primal screaming just because the shop ran out of their favourite ice-cream. This is simply about knowing the difference between being an emotionally dismissive or disapproving parent and one who chooses to help their child work through and cope with their emotional experiences (even with emotions you are uncomfortable with because of your own upbringing).
Emotion Coaching (John & Julie Gottman), is one way to respond to these issues. Emotion coaching is a parenting style which has been proven to greatly assist children is developing emotional regulation skills necessary for successfully navigating the ups and downs of life. The steps in Emotions Coaching will actually get you closer to your child rather than further away (which is right where punishing kids for their emotions will get you). It’s also worth noting here that there is no stock-standard ‘way’ to respond to a child’s misbehaviour. A parent’s response needs to be mindful and intentional, not simply a blanket response – to all misbehaviour, in all settings.
If you punish (i.e., with punitive, dismissing or rejecting behaviours) your child for having or expressing an emotion that you don’t like (especially with any regularity), then your child will develop a strong emotional inhibition schema – as well as other early maladaptive schemas. Such a child will learn that some emotions are ‘unacceptable’ or bad and destructive and they will gradually learn to suppress those emotions, firstly when around you and then later with others.
They will also learn that certain parts of themselves are to be ‘hidden’ and unacceptable to you and other people. All this will lead to poor emotional regulation and the belief that they cannot tolerate strong or difficult emotions (this is a very problematic outcome indeed, as these factors often play a role in adolescent suicidal and self-harming behaviours). These kids will eventually learn to fear their emotions and to respond to difficult emotions with faulty or even dangerous coping strategies. Apart from all this, they will also begin to harbour resentments towards you and they will become more selective in what they reveal to you and share with you.
So, like you (and all of us), kids have bad days and they often have ‘negative’ emotions and express them in ways we don’t like. The way to deal with this is to teach them that emotions (in themselves and in their pure form) are real and acceptable and cannot harm them. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ emotion. All emotions are temporary – they come and go. All emotions also have a function (or purpose) to them and an accompanying ‘action urge’ (a desire to act out a behaviour, whether that be positive or negative). The action of course is different from the actual emotion, it is not part of the emotion. The urge is part of the emotion, but the action (behaviour) comes afterwards. It’s the action or behaviour that we can learn to resist, control and alter (children learn this gradually between the ages of 3 – 7 usually). The actual feelings/emotions themselves, are less in our control.
‘Emotion Coaching’ is definitely the way to go in conjunction with intentional (tailored) responses to misbehaviour and limit setting when necessary. You have to know and understand your child’s unique temperament to appropriately discipline them. This is what’s missing in many parent’s approaches to discipline. Using one, single standard response to misbehaviour is often not the way to go. The interaction between a child’s temperament and a parent’s response is paramount. That’s the tricky part, as it can be a delicate interplay of responses not observable to an onlooker.
When we emotion coach our children, we work with whatever emotion is there, in order to teach important self-awareness and emotion-regulation skills. So called ‘negative’ emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, fear, frustration) are not things to be scared of, shut down or dismissed by parents. Rather, they can be great opportunities to ‘connect’ with your child and help them grow. There are 5 basic steps to emotion coaching (discussed in different blogs). Used appropriately, emotion coaching can bring you emotionally closer to your child and provide the essential building blocks for an on-going enriching relationship with them.
For help with these issues and for training in Emotion Coaching (the Gold Standard in Parenting) contact us to speak with one of our helpful psychologists.
Dr Gemma Gladstone
There is no time-frame, stages or steps to grief. With regards to bereavement, a person does not experience linear or sequential stages (they may of course, but this is rarely the case). The actual experience of grief is a lot more haphazard. Perhaps people intuitively like the idea of stages because it communicates to us an anticipated ‘end stage’.
However, there is no final ‘resolution’ or process one goes through in order to reach an end-point of ‘no grief’. This is a human view that we have tried to impose upon the experience of grief, fueled by the idea that one goes through the process of a painful, unpleasant experience only to come out the other-side having ‘let go’ of the pain.
There is a significant cultural expectation, at least in the West, that people should have a certain amount of time to process their loss (i.e., 3 months, 6 months, one-year?). After which time, it is often expected that a person should have somehow completed a period of ‘mourning’ and their grief should have ‘resolved’.
This idea is generally not helpful for the bereaved person and can leave them feeling confused and critical of their own grief and their ability to heal. At some level, people expect others to ‘get over it’ earlier than people can realistically heal from their loss. As a therapist, I’ve lost count of how many times a client has asked me a variation of these questions: “Is what I am feeling normal?” “Should I be feeling this sad for this long?” “My husband/friend/colleague etc wants to know when I’ll be over it”.
Anyone who has ever lost someone special knows that we don’t just get over it! At times of great stress, like the death of a loved one, we need to be connected to supportive others. We need supportive companionships and some degree of secure social bonds in order to grieve effectively.
But is there a usual course of grief?
Grief triggers an instinctive mourning process. Mourning is the process by which acute grief evolves (over time), as information about the finality and consequences of the death are integrated into the person’s attachment working models and life goals and plans are redefined accordingly.
The process of so called ‘normal grief’ is marked by movement towards acceptance of the loss and a gradual alleviation of the initial ‘symptoms’ of acute grief – as well as the ability for continued engagement in daily life. However, this transition is not linear. It is normal for the emotional pain of grief to be felt sporadically, with some days experienced as deeply sorrowful and painful and other days experienced as calm with an absence of intense negative emotion.
Acute grief gradually transforms into integrated grief (i.e., a grief that we live with and grow around). The grief remains – it never goes away, but we are able to integrate it into our life’s and who we are. We are essentially able to see our lives and live our lives without the lost person being present as they once were. Integrated grief often involves finding a new way to relate to the lost person. It also involves finding new meaning, a new or renewed sense of purpose and new goals for ourselves – over time.
In its true form grief is not an illness and grief in its pure form is not like depression. It can share so called symptoms with depression for example, but it is fundamentally different. The growing around grief model (discussed by Lois Tolkin) is a more realistic way to understand grief and clients often identify significantly with this view of grief – it also helps takes the pressure off.
In this regard, the grief is not necessarily resolved or completed, but it is experienced as qualitatively different. The grief may be still there, but the person is able to function around it. That is, the grief is not front and centre all the time. It tends to come to the surface when activated in some way (e.g., taking about the person in a conversation), but it is no longer experienced as acute grief.
So what is a ‘good outcome’ when it comes to grief?
What are some signs that a person has integrated or accommodated the loss into their lives? The list below includes several features of ‘integrated’ grief.
- The bereaved person gradually becomes more involved in life
- They begin to find renewed meaning in life
- They may develop a renewed sense of purpose
- Their ability to enjoy life again gradually returns
- There may be a strong appreciation for the (lost) person together with an appreciation for one’s own life
- The memories of the loved person become varied & more positive (eg., diverse memories spanning the whole relationship with that person) and not just about the end-of-life period or death-related memories.
- A continued ‘relationship’ with the loved person is maintained (e.g., photographs, community, relationships, included in conversation, prayer, meditation etc). Meaning that a new way of continuing the bond and relating to the deceased person has been established or at least partially established.
Key points to remember when relating to a bereaved person
- We don’t move through neat stages of grief only to come out the other side being “grief-free”. It just doesn’t usually work like that.
- A common assumption is that someone’s period of mourning should be shorter than it is.
- There is a common human tendency to want people to be “all better” – we want them to have ‘resolved’ and achieved ‘closure’ for their grief.
- People have very different grief experiences – we cannot compare or assume someone’s course of grief and mourning.
- Grief is already an isolating experience. Show up for someone who is grieving & always acknowledge their loss. Be present. Have ‘big ears and a small mouth’.
- Offer specific help and support. Bereaved people often experience difficulty in initiating connect with others. Instead of saying “let me know if I can do anything for you”. You could say “will you be free Friday, why don’t I bring over some dinner over?”.
What not to say to someone who is grieving
It is often difficult to know what to say to support bereaved family members, friends, work colleagues or acquaintances. Sometimes people say things to calm or reassure themselves and they unwittingly invalidate & dismiss the person’s loss.
- Avoid unhelpful “At least” Examples: “At least she didn’t suffer”; “at least he died peacefully”; “at least you have other children”; “at least he died doing something he enjoyed”
- Avoid talking about your own grief too soon.
- Avoid comparing their grief to other people’s grief or loss circumstances.
- Avoid encouraging them to ‘get on with their lives” by saying something like “John would not have wanted you to be sad”.
You don’t really have to have something clever or profound to say. A simple “I’m so sorry…” together with your presence and general support is often the best comfort you can provide someone who is grieving.
We often think of grief as the psychological response to loss but it is certainly more like a full-bodied response, especially for the bereaved person (i.e., a person who is experiencing the death of a loved one).
Grief is an inescapable part of life and an important part of the human condition. The amount of ‘pain’ experienced is generally commensurate with the degree of loss and therefore the degree of love and attachment we feel for the person we have lost.
The loss of a loved person is the most obvious form of loss but there are numerous types of losses we can face in our lifetimes: career loss, financial loss, lost outcomes, loss of friendships/relationships, loss of fertility, loss of hope, loss of health/independence, the aging process, loss of ‘a future’, loss of one’s dreams for the future, loss because life didn’t turn out how we had planned!
Grief is so closely tied up with what it is to be a human being living in a changing and imperfect world. There might be many micro-moments of grief throughout life (ie.,disappointments) as well as more distinct and painful grief experiences such as the death of a much loved person.
There are many models of grief and bereavement, different theorists emphasise different ‘tasks’ or ‘phases’ involved in grief work. They all understand grief to involve a painful emotional adjustment which takes time and with no specific time limit. This appears to be universally true, although each person’s grief experience will be unique. Grief is indeed a universal experience but there are very unique aspects to each and every loss.
When someone close to us dies, our entire emotional and social landscape is changed. The way we grieve will be influenced by a myriad of factors. Therefore we cannot compare people as each person’s individual history will influence the course and nature of their grief.
What is Acute Grief?
During the initial weeks and months, the bereaved person may be very preoccupied with the most recent memories of their loved one (eg, remembering them being sick and other ‘death-related’ memories). Over time however, there is usually a gradual return of more distance memories of the person, including both positive and neutral memories. This process tends to occur naturally.
Acute grief is not a disorder or a psychiatric condition, although there may be many ‘symptoms’ which are similar to those with depression or PTSD. The acute phase of grief is the initial intense response to the loss which encompasses an array of internal experiencing and outward behaviours. It is important not to pathologize grief itself as all these responses are normal. The acutely bereaved person can experience: shock, disbelief, emotional numbness, panic, fear, insecurity, confusion, sleep and appetite disturbances, physical pain, sadness, sorrow, intense emotions, longing, disengagement from ongoing life, insistent thoughts of the lost person and many others. Acute grief is generally ‘time limited’ (in that these intense feelings and
experiences naturally subside over-time – they become less intense). Acute grief does tend to come in waves and bursts. It is important not to block or deny your feelings of loss. You need to feel the pain of the loss in order to begin to heal.
What is Integrated Grief?
The process of so called ‘normal grief’ is marked by movement towards acceptance of the loss and a gradual alleviation of the initial ‘symptoms’ of acute grief – as well as the ability for continued engagement in daily life. However, this transition takes time and is not linear. It is normal for the emotional pain of grief to be felt sporadically, with some days experienced as deeply sorrowful and painful and other days experienced as calm with an absence of intense negative emotion.
The acute grief gradually transforms into integrated grief (i.e., a grief that we live with and grow around). The grief remains within us – it never goes away or ‘resolves’ as such, however though its gradual acceptance we being to integrate it into our life’s, who we are and our future.
This means that we are gradually able to see our lives and live our lives without the lost person being in our life as they once were. Integrated grief often involves finding a new way to relate to the lost person and keeping some form of ‘connection’ with your loved one. Many people find a way to continue a special bond with the lost person and this can be very useful and healing. The process of integration also involves finding new meaning, a new or renewed sense of purpose and some new life goals for ourselves.
Mostly, grief is processed in a way whereby the bereaved person moves and changes with the grief and all the life changes that have resulted from the loss (i.e., life after the loss of a loved one). We know that someone is ‘processing’ the loss, if they are generally non-avoidant of the pain (most of the time). The term, “the only way out is through” is a very apt sentiment when it comes to grief. So non-avoidance and allowing oneself to feel all the emotions and pain of the loss is paramount to one’s ability to accept the loss, process the loss and integrate the loss into their life.
What is Complicated Grief?
Recent studies suggest that complicated grief (also referred to as ‘prolonged grief disorder’ and ‘persistent complex bereavement disorder’) affects around 10 – 15 % of bereaved individuals. These people’s grief does not appear to evolve over time and they continue to experience distressing acute grief symptoms for a prolonged period. They will also feel as though they are stuck in their grief and admit to feeling unable to cope with the loss. It is very hard for them to see a future for themselves without the lost person. Simply put, the grief becomes ‘complicated’ or derailed because the person unwittingly blocks the emotional processing necessary to integrate the grief. They do this because the reality of the loss is simply too painful and catastrophic that they cannot allow themselves to fully feel it and acknowledge all its ramifications (eg, secondary losses, changes to life as they know it).
Thoughts, beliefs and behaviours can get in the way and actively block the experience of grief, stopping the person from feeling the pain of the loss and blocking acceptance of their new reality. The lost loved one is still very much the focus of the person’s inner world (unlike inhibited or delayed grief where the person has shut down most of the thoughts and reminders of the deceased person). In complicated grief reactions, the person is thinking and ruminating on their lost loved one and the circumstances around the death. There are usually lots of thoughts and
around “what if…” “if only I…..” “if only they….”. Regret, guilt and self-blame are very common thought processes. There may often be a sense of having ‘failed’ the lost person – especially if the loved one is a child.
These complex cognitions and beliefs and the person’s preoccupation with them, keep the person from actually doing the work of emotionally processing the loss. These complex thought processes, inhibit the necessary emotional processing.
Common components of complicated grief:
Thoughts and ruminations are often related to: care-giver self-blame and guilt
Unhelpful Behaviours: either distinct ongoing avoidance of reminders or constant over-engagement with reminders
Emotion dysregulation: Over or under-engagement with emotional material/emotions; not taking respite from painful emotions (not allowing oneself to experience positive emotions)
Inadequate restoration processes: lack of sleep; nutrition; exercise; positive emotions
Lack of emotional/social support or contact with active egregious influences (eg, family disputes)
There may also be a co-occurring psychological disorder (eg, depression or PTSD), that needs treatment
Therapy can and does help!
Treatment for complicated grief can include experiential interventions like chair-work and imaginal dialogues. These methods have proved to be highly successful at helping people resolved painful emotions and beliefs tied up with the loss.
Don’t hesitate to seek therapy to help you deal with the trauma of the death of a loved one.
There is also no time limit for grief. It is common for people to suffer from loss feelings and sometimes complications years and decades after the loss of a loved person.
Whether you are experiencing complicated grief or not, therapy can assist you to
integrate your loss and work through and heal from the intense emotional pain of
grief. It is never too late to seek help for any kind of loss.
Emotion Coaching is a style of parenting which emphasises the parent/child relationship. It’s primary focus is to help parents tech their children how to identify emotions and regulate them. It helps equip parents to teach their children a way to connect at an emotional level.
EMOTION COACHING YOUR PRE-SCHOOLER AND YOUNG CHILD: The Five Steps of Emotion Coaching.
- Be aware of your child’s emotions.
This is the vital first step of emotion coaching. Many parents and educators want to find solutions and problem-solve children’s negative emotions too soon. Notice how your child is feeling by the expression on their face. Take the time required to notice and learn about your child’s emotional expressions. With practice you will be able to see emotions in your child before they escalate.“Looks like you are feeling frustrated with that” “Are you angry with mummy because I didn’t get you that ice-cream”. “I can see you’re so excited right now”
- Recognise emotion as an opportunity for connection and teaching.
This is more of an attitude on the part of parent. There is no need to be afraid of your child’s emotions. Helping a child correctly identify and label what they are feeling DOES NOT encourage a child to wallow in self-pity or dwell in an emotion. No matter what the emotion, it is an opportunity to open up a connection between you and your child so that they feel heard and understood. A child can only learn to manage an emotion if they first learn to understand that emotion. It is your job as a parent to teach them.
- Help your child verbally label emotions.
Enquire about how your child feels about something. Help them identify and say out loud the emotion they are in touch with. Ask them if they feel the emotion anywhere in their bodies. Research has demonstrated that the simple (yet skilful) act of accurately identifying and labelling emotions helps to ‘tame’ the amygdala (the amygdala is a tiny brain structure deep in the brain and its job is to quickly process and express emotions, especially anger and fear). The idea of accurately labelling emotions, helps children develop vital emotion regulation skills necessary for effective living.
- Communicate empathy and understanding.
This step means that you communicate that you understand how your child is feeling – that you get it!! Empathy does not mean agreeing with or condoning something, it simply means that you try and understand their perspective and how they might be feeling. In other words – that you see how they are feeling and that you understand why they would be feeling that way. Showing empathy and understanding helps your child feel less alone with their feelings. Being alone with unpleasant feelings, with no idea how to work through them or what to do with them, is one of the scariest things for a child. Children who do not feel understood and heard, will grow up feeling panicked about their strong or negative emotions and will be at greater risk of unhealthy coping strategies when they are older (e.g., things like using food, alcohol, drugs, gaming, shopping or sex to find comfort and soothe themselves).
- Set limits and help problem solve.
All feelings are acceptable, but not all behaviours are acceptable. If your child’s actions are unacceptable (not their feelings!), then of course it is important to set limits on those behaviours which are not OK. When it comes to problem solving a major part of the process is understanding. Just being present for your child and helping them through a challenge (so they know they can count on you to understand them) is the most helpful part of problem solving. It’s important to remember this last part (point 5) of emotion coaching. Children who only get coached from 1 through to 4, are at risk of becoming more self-centred and impulsive and will have a hard time when things don’t go their way. They may even act out aggressively or develop other problematic behaviours. Setting limits means being able to say “no” to your child when necessary and not giving in to displays of angry emotional outbursts (or “upstairs brain tantrums” (see ‘The Whole Brain Child’ (Siegel & Bryson, 2011) for a good explanation of age appropriate parenting and understanding the function of children’s emotional outbursts).
We need to be caring, compassionate and wise parents, acting in our children’s best interests and providing them with the best possible care and guidance. Sometimes this means not giving them what they want but rather giving them what is best for their well-being (e.g., vegetables as part of dinner rather than junky processed food). If we always ‘give-in’ because we cannot tolerate our child’s emotional outbursts (for whatever reason), they will quickly learn that they can use their emotions to get what they want. The sad news for them is that this will not serve them well as they get older. Trying to ‘manipulate’ people with our emotions is not a good tactic and will only isolate us from others and affect how well we can make and maintain positive friendships. Don’t forget that ‘having limits set for us’ is actually a core childhood need. It needs to happen otherwise we will grow up with unrealistic expectations of what the world can offer us!
Good luck with your attempts at emotion coaching. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all the time. Being a good emotion coach at least 50 % of the time is all it takes to have a positive effect upon your child’s development.
The above points constitute a general summary of the 5 steps: for more details see: “Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting” – Parent handbook by John and Julie Gottman href=”https://emotioncoaching.gottman.com
Dr Gemma Gladstone.