Emotion Coaching Funpak!
Two things you need to know about this post:
1. It is an edited reprint from my old blog, The Me Show. If you're an OG CML reader, this might be repeat information for you. It remains relevant, though, as long as you have emotions, children, or children with emotions.
2. This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. This means that if you click through on the links for suggested items and buy them, we'll get a small kickback consisting of ENTIRE DOZENS of cents that we'll throw on the ground and attempt to swim through like Scrooge McDuck.
You've been warned. On with the show.
Years ago, I read John Gottman's Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child in a parenting book group and really learned a lot from it. It's one of those parenting books that not only helps you become a better parent, but also has the potential to help make you a better person, too. Its core message is one of helping your children identify and cope with their emotions by empathizing and strategizing with your kids. The idea is simple, but it seems pretty rare in practice. Empathy certainly isn't emphasized in schools (this book is a great read for teachers, too), and it appears to be a newer revelation in parenting given what I've seen on playgrounds, etc., where getting kids to stop feeling their feelings seems to be job one in teaching good behavior. I highly recommend this book to teachers, parents, and caregivers. It's a great one and sure to be useful in improving your relationships with kids and adults alike.
More recently, I enjoyed the more neurobiologically-oriented approach to the same concept of emotion coaching in Daniel J. Siegel's The Whole Brain Child. I'm a long-time fan of Siegel's work (no hyperbole - Mindsight changed my life), and this is his most approachable and easily accessible book yet. It is a thorough explanation of how children's brains work when experiencing and processing deep emotions, along with concrete strategies to help them cope with their big feelings. It is the ideal combination of scientific precision and practical utility. Plus, it has comics in it and, as much as I enjoy brain science, I also love a book with pictures. This book is great on its own, and it's also best friends with Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. I enjoyed reading them both, but if you're pressed for time either one will help you help your kids manage their emotions productively.
These are great because of the vocabulary they teach. If, as Dan Siegel asserts, you have to be able to name your feelings to tame your feelings, it's helpful to have more words at your disposal with which to name more emotions. Rather than being limited to "happy" and "sad," the cards run the gamut of complicated and nuanced emotions in kid-friendly language (annoyed, worried, excited, and even ants-in-my-pants are represented on the cards). As toddlers, the girls loved to flip the cards and look at the pictures, picking up language that we used together in emotion coaching later on. Plus, Todd Parr is a fantastically funny illustrator. Shoot, he created one of my favorite children's books, The Underwear Book, so I'm happy to support his little empire. (See also, The Feelings Book, which is good, but not as beloved in our house as the flashcards.)
If you want to start smaller with your little one, I also recommend Mrs. Mustard's Baby Faces by Jane Wattenberg, a fold-out book that has all happy baby faces on one side and all sad baby faces on the opposite side. It's a wordless book, so you can tell the story of each baby or give each emotion a name on your own, but little babies love looking at the crisp, clear photos of other babies. The Smartlings loved (and mauled) this book so much that we wound up buying multiple copies. As babies, the girls would sometimes point to the sad babies and makes sad faces themselves and make smiles with the happy babies. Either they were showing that they were learning empathy or playing with expressions of her own emotions, both of which are useful in fostering emotional intelligence. Plus one of the sad babies, called "Boogie Baby" in our house, has a snot bubble bursting from a nostril, which captivated both girls for years.
We didn't discover Molly Bang's When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry and When Sophie's Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt until our younger Smartling was a toddler, but better late than never. These are excellent books that both show how Sophie, a young girl with big emotions, is able to feel her feelings in all their overwhelming abundance, find ways to integrate them after calming herself down, and both repair disrupted social ties or accept others' repairs. These are books simple enough for kids to identify with immediately and understand and sophisticated enough for adults to benefit from, too.
So, there you have it. Enjoy the fruits of my obsessive labors, friends. And if you have any more resources to share, please do so in the comments below!