ENTERING OUR CHILDREN'S EMOTIONAL WORLD

Dr. Dan L. Edmunds, Ed.D.,B.C.S.A.



Gottman provides an important outline towards opening the door to healing. Gottman explains that, “much of today’s popular advice to parents ignores emotion. Instead it relies on child-rearing theories that address children’s misbehavior, but disregards the feelings that underlie that misbehavior. The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child. Most parents hope for much more for their children. They want their children to be moral and responsible people who contribute to society, who have the strength to make their own choices in life, who enjoy accomplishments of their own talents, who enjoy life and the pleasures it can offer, who have good relationships with friends and successful marriages, and who themselves become good parents. “In my research I discovered that love by itself wasn’t enough. We found that concerned, warm, and involved parents often had attitudes toward their emotions and their children’s emotions that got in the way of talking to their children when the child was sad or afraid or angry. The secret to being an emotionally intelligent parent’ lay in how parents interacted with their children when emotions ran hot.” –adapted from pp. 15-16, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman with Joan DeClaire. Gottman outlines the following five things neccessary for emotional coaching: Be aware of a child's emotions,Recognize emotional expression as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching, Listen empathetically and validate a child's feelings, Label emotions in words a child can understand Help a child come up with an appropriate way to solve a problem or deal with an upsetting issue or situation. I have recommended the use of 'time ins' to help set the time and communication necessary to explore feelings. The use of 'dramatized grievances' as suggested by Psychologist John Breeding allow children to express emotions without fear of being judged. Parents and therapists must encourage children to develop adaptive responses, to let them take responsibility for developing a plan and understanding themselves. Emotion coaching is effective and works, Gottman has recognized the following in his research to occur: Children- Are able to regulate their emotional states. Are better at soothing themselves when they are upset. Could calm down their hearts faster after something upsetting happens. Have fewer infectious illnesses. Are better at focusing attention. Relate better to other people, even in tough situations like getting teased in middle school. Are better at understanding people. Have better friendships with other children. Are better in school situations that require academic performance. Many times I have seen mental health professionals seek to only redirect behaviors without getting to the real root of the problem and seeking to understand just why a child feels the way they do. We must recognize emotions as an opportunity for us to have a trusting relationship with the child and it is an opportunity for teaching. We must validate the feelings and listen empathetically, while helping the child to develop for themselves goals and ways to cope with the problem at hand. My form of therapy is completely child centered. I do not come with an agenda to impose upon a child but rather encourage the child to explore for themselves, to coach them in the ways that they can provide for their own emotional healing.

Adults are guides not dictators, and the fact remains that children do not have something just to learn from us, but we can learn from them. I recount another occassion where a child presented to me with some depression. He needed someone to talk to and open up to, and so I took him to a bookstore/coffeeshop. We sat drinking cappucino and I allowed him to direct the conversation. Because I allowed him to direct the conversation and provided a comfortable atmosphere, we were able to share much together. At the end of the session he commented to me that I was one of the only people who he could trust and who respected him. I began to realize within myself that many of my own conflicts in the profession lie in the fact that like a child, I do not want to be controlled. No one wants to be dictacted to, they desire freedom and exploration. We need people who will guide us not hover over us with a conception that they have all the answers. One of the most harmful thing to children and actually to anyone is excessive criticism. When a child acts out there is a reason, but often those in the mental health profession and parents as well do not want to take the time to explore the emotions behind why a child acts out. It takes too much time and effort. It is much easier to criticize the child or to try to make the child 'stop' the behavior, whether this be through force, drugging, or both. It is important to enter the child's world, to develop a mental map of who the child is, why they are what they are, and where they are headed from here. We must avoid 'siding with the enemy' as Gottman points out. This means if there is something we don't care for that the child is involved with that we dont become so overly critical that we alienate the child and cause him to not want to build an emotional bridge of communication with us.

People need to share in their child's dreams and fantasies. Imagination is positive, and children need these outlets even if they appear unrealistic to us adults. Sometimes, we adults need to share in the activities of children, we must make ourselves children so that children can relate to us. I recall working with a 5 year old child and he asked me if I would roll down a hill with him. To some mental health professionals with a 'stuffy attitude', this would appear absurd for an adult to do, but I joined him in his fun, and it created a bond with this child. I was able to speak with this child and the child would listen, not because I was the 'mighty' adult speaking but because I had entered his world with love and compassion. Children need to be empowered, not denigrated, they need to be respected, treated with dignity. Todays mental health profession is filled with money making schemes, and does not often hold the child's best interests in mind when business and money come to the forefront. This is what I call mental health system oppression. People think that these individuals being 'experts' are there to help their children, but only if they really knew what was going on behind the scenes. There are only two real qualifications are a therapist- love and compassion. The very virtues that we should be teaching our children are mostly lacking in the mental health field today. God willing, the conscience of psychology and psychiatry will return, and then the door to healing will once again be opened.

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