Dangers of Ignoring Positive Emotions
My husband once told me that I wouldn’t be able to talk if I lost my arms. They move, gesture, get excited, and reflect my emotions. I’ve noticed that my kids are developing this same tendency as well – we must look like a small flock of birds when we are really excited or joyful about something.
These good, positive emotions, however, are sometimes overlooked in importance when it comes to emotion coaching our children. We focus on helping them through the rough spots – frustration, stress, anger, fear, and sadness (which is great), but we more easily dismiss positive emotions and the effects those can have on our kids and our families. Positive emotions can be just as overwhelming as those that we view as negative, and can even lead to similar reactions and consequences.
What Does Emotion Coaching Have to Do With It?
If the idea of emotion coaching or emotional intelligence is new to you – do not be afraid. Arm yourself with a few good reads, such as Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by John Gottman, Ph.D., or one of many pieces by Daniel Goleman, a leading proponent of teaching children through emotional awareness.
As you dive through their work, or reflect on it if you are already familiar with it, consider some of those times we forget as parents to use emotion coaching because the emotions just feel good. Why would we need to coach our kids’ ways through joy, fulfillment, or satisfaction? Because they can get so wrapped up in these positive emotions that the fallout is splashed with negative consequences. One of the most important keys to emotion coaching is developing empathy, and positive emotions are often very closely intertwined with empathetic reactions.
Sometimes when kids get overwhelmed with positive emotions, they might do one of the following:
- Talk over someone because their excitement makes them forget their manners.
- Be so excited or filled with anticipation that a poor decision is made in the rushed haste of the situation.
- Get louder and louder in their conversations, forgetting that others might not want to continue to hear about it, especially when they come close to breaking the sound barrier.
- Become stressed – for some children these positive emotions can tumble over each other in a stampede.
How can we emotion coach for the positive emotions?
The steps for emotion coaching with your kids through the positive emotions are similar to how you would emotion coach through emotions that are more difficult.
- Be open to their emotions and ask them open-ended questions.
- Validate their emotions by repeating them back (I hear you saying that school was really hard today and you felt anxious and frustrated. What can you tell me about some of the things that made it difficult?).
- Give your child some vocabulary and definitions for emotions beyond happy and sad – you are adding to their emotion toolkit.
- Help them seek and discover ways to address emotions and find solutions to problems when appropriate.
If you’re still unsure about how positive emotions can lead to negative consequences, consider the following two scenarios and how situations like these might crop up in your family’s life. I know they do in mine, and I have to be just as ready to help my kids through their excitement and joy as I do their disappointments and frustrations.
Example 1: Take One for The Team
Your son has been working hard for a starting position on the hockey team, and finally he makes it. This makes him ecstatic, relieved, and validated. However, somewhere in the locker room there is another child who just lost his position as a starter. An essential part of emotion coaching is helping our kids realize that their own elated emotions might be painful for those around them – empathy. How can you emotion coach your child to enjoy those positive emotions and yet respect the reactions of others?
- Spend lots of time talking about the difference between pride and ego. In our home pride is defined as something we feel on the inside, but ego rides on our shoulders for everyone else to see (and it is usually dressed in poor taste).
- Take time to talk about hypothetical situations where your personal, positive emotions might not be well received, and how you can manage those to be appropriate and respectful of others.
- Allow for a time and place to share and celebrate those positive emotions. Encourage this by saying things to your kids such as, “I always look forward to hearing about your practices over dinner where you can tell me about the plans for the next game.”
- Acknowledge the emotions of both persons or groups of people by saying something such as, “It really sounds like you are happy your hard work and dedication paid off to reach your goals of starting on the team. That must make you feel very good about your work. It is probably a challenge for Jimmy to lose his position, and it is important that he still knows he is a valuable part of the team.”
Example 2: The Not So Happy Birthday Party
Streamers, balloons, and bags of goodies – what could be bad about that? The emotions we typically associate with childhood parties are positive: excitement, anticipation, glee, just to name a few. However, as any parent of a young child probably knows, there can suddenly be a melting point. And this isn’t a slow, gradual thaw followed by a steady dripping. This is an all-out fit, and we are left scratching our heads and wondering where it all went wrong. Good, healthy, positive emotions and situations can also be stressful and develop into emotions that are more challenging to handle.
- Limit the duration of the party so your child has a limited time with which to deal with all of those exciting emotions (which are amplified by the emotions of her friends).
- Make a real assessment of the situation – will your child feel stressed with so many friends or will he be as calm around 13 as he is around 3 buddies?
- Role play with your child before the party, and talk about some of the different ways she might feel, and how she can safely react to those feelings with all of those friends clamoring for her attention.
If you haven’t yet discovered the benefits of emotion coaching your children, take the time to discover what it is and how studies show that it can benefit your kids and entire family. Even though the typical approach is to focus on dealing with negative emotions, our kids need tools to sift their ways through the overwhelming implications of positive emotions as well.