Becoming an Emotion Coach

Friday, August 21, 2015 No comments

I'm over at The Gottman Institute today with a post on becoming emotional coaches for our children. Did you now that being able to understand and manage emotions well is one of the key predictors for a successful life? Read on to learn how to give your child a head start!


What determines how children turn out? This is the question on every parent's mind. What can we do to give our children the best start in life and to ensure that they grow into kind, intelligent, and happy people? As parents, we all want to raise kids who:
  • Are compassionate
  • Treat others well
  • Are confident
  • Think for themselves
  • Have good values
  • Are proud but not arrogant
  • Value themselves and their abilities
  • Have morals we respect and admire
Interestingly, world-renowned relationship researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman have determined two predictors for how children turn out.

1.  Emotion regulation: The ability to understand and manage feelings

2.  Social relationships: How children get along with adults and other children

Unfortunately, very few parenting resources discuss these two predictors. Most parenting resources focus only on discipline, and that alone does not help parents reach these goals. Realizing that parenting is about so much more than a discipline method - that a big part of good parenting is teaching children emotion regulation - I turned to the Gottmans’ Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting video program.

Dr. John Gottman says that parents cannot accomplish all of these goals with discipline alone, and that this is instead accomplished through what Dr. Julie Gottman calls “Magic Moments.” These are moments of connecting with children when they are emotional. It is through connecting during Magic Moments that parents can really influence how children feel about themselves and about the world. How we connect during those moments is dependent upon our own “meta-emotions,” which is how we feel about feelings, and of course, how we feel about feelings is a direct result of how we were treated in childhood when we showed emotions!

In general, the Gottmans discovered that there are 2 types of parents when it comes to meta-emotions.

1.  Dismissing/disapproving parents who see sadness and anger as though they are harmful poisons. These parents will do anything to change the child’s emotion to a positive one, feeling that anything other than a happy child is an indication that they are a failure as a parent. They says these parents view emotions as if they were a piece of clothing that you can choose to put on or take off.

2.  Emotion coaches are parents who view emotions as an opportunity to connect and teach. These parents, Dr. John Gottman says, notice lower intensity emotion in their children as well as in themselves. They meet all emotion first with understanding and empathy, and then these parents set limits or problem-solve, depending upon whether misbehavior was connected to the emotion.

In the Emotion Coaching program, the Gottmans outline the benefits of having at least one emotion coaching parent. These children:
  • Have higher achievement
  • Have fewer infectious illness
  • Have better impulse control and delayed gratification
  • Require less discipline
  • Whine less
  • Are buffered from most negative effects of divorce
How to be an Emotion Coach:
1.  Help children verbally label their emotions. To be able to regulate emotions, children must understand them – what they feel like, what brings them on, and what to do when they feel them.

2. ...continue reading how to become an emotion coach at The Gottman Institute Blog

The Positive Discipline Difference

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 No comments

Last week, I debunked the myth that positive parents just want to be friends with their children. You can read that post here. This week, I want to address the idea that we simply don’t discipline our children. “But kids need discipline” is a recurrent comment on my Facebook page, and I must say that I absolutely agree. Kids DO need discipline! So do teachers, firefighters, artists, store managers, farmers, - every responsible, productive human being. So, the question is, what is discipline and how do we make sure our kids have it?

If you look up the definition for discipline today, you’re going to get something along the lines of “to punish or rebuke for an offense,” which I think is an unfortunate twist of the original Latin meaning, “instruction or knowledge.” I almost never punish my kids, but I do offer a lot of instruction and knowledge (which I wouldn’t do if I were permissive). Therefore, I definitely discipline my children, just not in the same way as many, and there’s a reason for that. The conventional way of discipline, to punish for an offense, is problematic for several reasons:

Quick-fix: By doling out an immediate punishment, we’ve skipped right over an attempt at understanding the cause of the behavior and what the child may need taught or helped with in favor of a quick-fix solution to make the behavior stop. Unfortunately, when we miss the cause or need behind the behavior, we’ve missed a key opportunity to help the child learn to understand and control himself, and ultimately I think that’s the real goal here – a child who is self-disciplined (who doesn’t need a parent following her around enforcing rules). We want them to know how to do what’s right when we aren’t there with our threats and parental power, yet we undermine our own efforts when we skip the teaching what’s right part in favor of the quick fix.

Missed connection: It’s clear that punishing children causes a disconnection between us and them, but most parents feel that the disconnection is necessary in order to teach the child a lesson. Ironically, connection is the very thing that makes children follow our rules, heed our instruction, and want to do well. In addition, the benefits of connection (attachment) is well-documented, and leads to higher self-confidence, resilience, social skills, and emotional health. When we approach a behavioral issue with the intent to understand and teach rather than to make the child pay, we can discipline while maintaining our crucial connection.

Wrong focus: Punishment often makes children focus more on their own suffering than on the effects of their behavior. In her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, Dr. Becky Bailey says this, “You cannot simultaneously feel bad about what you have done and focus on what you must do differently.” In this way, punishment actually shuts down learning, and the lesson we are trying to teach is lost on a resentful child. Sadly, for some children, punishment makes them feel so badly that they begin to believe they are bad people, and when that gets into a child’s self-concept, he will behave the way he sees himself. Psychologists refer to this as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Those are the reasons I have chosen to discipline differently, with the intent to instruct and impart knowledge rather than to punish. To be clear, I have had to allow consequences that teach because, as we all know, poor behavior has negative consequences, but these are natural consequences that I don’t have to impose or a result of a solution that my child and I have arrived at together. If you’re wondering what I do instead of punishment, take at a look at these 3 alternatives to the old time-out I used to use.

Positive parents discipline in an unconventional way, but the idea that we don’t discipline at all is FALSE. In fact, I spend a good amount of time each day disciplining my children. It can be confusing to understand how to discipline without relying on punishment. It took a while for me to fully understand it, too. Once I did understand the reasons for connection, finding the need behind the behavior, teaching appropriate alternatives, and looking for solutions to problems, it became much easier to discipline my children positively, and I really feel that the benefits have been great for us all.

The links provided in the article will provide some insight into alternative methods of discipline. For more, pick up The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting and Positive Parenting in Action.

For more of my Positive Parenting articles, click here.

Are We Just Friends?

Monday, August 17, 2015 No comments

During my years as administrator of a popular Positive Parenting page on Facebook, I’ve seen quite a few myths swirling about the public regarding positive parents. In this new series, Debunking Myths about Positive Parenting, I’ll be addressing such myths as:
  • Positive parents just want to be friends with their children
  • Positive parents don’t discipline
  • Positive parents reward tantrums and misbehavior
  • Positive parents are helicopter parents
  • Positive parents are permissive parents
As a positive parent for 9 years now, I want to discuss this idea that I just want to be my children’s friend. While it is true that friendship is an aspect of the positive parent/child relationship (and an important one), the idea that I only want to be buddies is completely FALSE.

Let me be clear about what kind of friend I am NOT:

1. I’m not the kind of friend who lets them make poor choices while I sit idly by or even, gasp, join in.

It seems that the thought of a parent being a child’s friend conjures up images of a parent who gives no rules, no boundaries, and no discipline. These “friends” turn away when their children misbehave because correcting the child would cause ill feelings which might jeopardize the friendship.

At worst, these “friends” may even join their children for a night of partying and poor decisions to strengthen the friendship bond. How is this the definition of a friend? I hope my friends would care enough about me to step in if they saw me heading down a destructive path, and boundaries are a part of all healthy relationships.

2. I’m not the kind of friend who inappropriately confides in my children or dumps all of my emotional baggage on them.

Another “friend” concern that I’ve heard about is that of over-sharing our adult problems. While I believe in being authentic with my children, I don’t think it would be mature of me to dump my issues, worries, problems, and fears on their heads, and I think all positive parents would agree. I know how to save that for my grown-up friends and not burden my children with things they shouldn’t have to carry.

3. I’m not the kind of friend who bubble-wraps them and protects them from all failure and struggle.

I’ll discuss this more in a future post about helicoptering, but again, this is really not my idea of friendship. I want friends who encourage me to reach for the stars and listen compassionately when I fall. It can certainly be uncomfortable to see children fail at something that was important to them. My gut says to protect them, but I know that failure is a part of life. I don’t always protect them from the fall; I just provide a soft landing.

Let me be clear about what kind of friend I AM:

1. I am the kind of friend who listens.

When they tell me about their Lego creation (again), I make a point to be engaged and actively listening. I listen when they tell me stories or when they share fears. I listen to dreams and Batman story lines...continue reading at CreativeChild

Read more of my positive parenting articles here.

Positive Communication with Children

Friday, August 7, 2015 1 comment
Positive communication is an essential part of all healthy relationships. It builds mutual respect, trust, connection, and nurtures your child’s self-esteem. The parent/child relationship is our first place for learning how relationships should be. Therefore, when we set the standard for healthy, positive communication now, children develop skills that will help them build healthy relationships lifelong.
Here are the guidelines for positive, respectful communication with children.


Oftentimes, parents listen to respond rather than to understand. We want to quickly offer our judgments and advice, but doing so may shut down the lines of communication. Active listening means you listen attentively without interrupting, seeking to understand the words, the emotion, and the message of the speaker.

Put away distractions (don’t look at your phone or a newspaper, but give full attention to your child), show you’re interested by using positive body language (nods, eye contact, open posture), offer encouragement to continue talking, such as “go on” or “uh-huh,” and make sure you understood what was being said by paraphrasing.

For example, “What I’m hearing is that you...Is that correct?”

“I said NOW!”
“What were you thinking?!”
“Get in there and pick that mess up THIS INSTANT!”

Who else would we ever speak to this way except a child? No one! Speaking to children this way isn’t necessary, either. Tone is as important as words, so use a positive, even tone and don’t speak to them in a way you wouldn’t use on anyone else.

I know it can be exasperating when children don’t listen or when they behave in ways we don’t like, but speaking disrespectfully will never encourage cooperation or better behavior. It only sets a poor example for communication – one they will likely pick up and use on you or others in the future.

If you are towering over a child, it can feel intimidating for them. When a child has something to tell you, get down on eye level if you can. This helps children feel more at ease, which opens up communication. Being on eye level conveys the message that you are really paying attention and enhances connection.

Try to see things from your child’s perspective. When we dismiss or reject our children’s feelings, opinions, and ideas with “it’s not that bad,” “there’s no need to be upset,” “that’s a silly idea,” or “that’ll never work,” they feel invalidated. That shuts down communication. Empathy not only helps us communicate our thoughts to others in a way that makes sense to them, but it allows our children to feel heard and understood.

Being in tune with and in charge of your emotions and being able to regulate before you respond is key to positive communication. When you are able to remain calm and positive and refrain from attacks and saying something you might regret later, you model true maturity to your child. Plus, with no threat of an outburst from you, your child will feel comfortable opening up to you about bigger and tougher things.

Clear, direct, assertive communication means you express your feelings, needs, and desires effectively, while respecting the rights of others. Being assertive is a necessary parenting skill. Aggressiveness puts children on the defensive, and passiveness gives children a disproportionate amount of control.

When you communicate assertively, use “I” statements, discuss your feelings, and give reasoning for your boundaries or rules. While being assertive, always keep your child’s feelings, needs, and wants in mind. This builds mutual respect. Teach your child how to communicate assertively as well as it's an important skill to have.


Giving a child the cold shoulder, not speaking to him, rolling your eyes, scowling, and withholding affection when a child displeases you is not modeling good communication skills. While we must correct poor behavior, be careful not to communicate conditional love as that damages a child’s self-esteem and breaks down the connection.

It’s unlikely that you’ll communicate effectively when your reptilian brain is lit up. Wait until you are calm and rational before confronting your child. Try saying, “We need to talk about this soon. First, I need to calm down.”

Honestly, I’m not sure if there is such a thing as constructive criticism. Criticism is always painful as it is a direct attack. Rather than criticize, describe what needs to be done. Instead of “your room is always a mess,” say “I need you to clean your room by this afternoon.” When you focus on what you want done in the future, rather than on what your child did wrong in the past, you’re much more likely to have a positive outcome.

Use these guidelines for effective, positive communication. When you model these strategies, your children will also begin to use them in not just communication with you, but with others in the future.

As seen on CreativeChild