My son fell down in the park the other day and started crying and I went straight to him, picked him up and cuddled him until he stopped crying. But am I mollycoddling my son too much and turning him into a wimp? I know that other mothers might see it this way and want their children to ‘toughen’ up.
As usual, when I have questions about my parenting style, I turn to psychological research for the answers. ‘Tuning into kids’ is a new parenting programme being run in Australia and it suggests that we should not dismiss or play down our children’s feelings. Parents are taught to accept and explore their children’s emotions rather than dismiss them. For example, when parents dismiss their children’s emotions they say to themselves that they want to change their child’s worried moods into cheerful ones. However, according to research, it is better for parents to try to understand why their children are worried and to find out what their children are thinking. According to Gottman and colleagues (1997), parents should be aware of their children’s emotions and help their children to understand and label their emotions. It may be hard for parents to accept their children’s strong emotions such as anger and jealousy but it is important to try to empathise with them. If parents can learn to deal with their children’s strong emotions, children feel validated. Parents can also use it as a time for getting closer to their children and to teach their children how to solve problems. Gottman and colleagues found that when parents coach their children in emotions, the children have fewer behaviour problems and better social skills.
Havighurst et al. (2010) compared 4 and 5-year-old children, whose parents had been taught emotion coaching (the ‘Tuning into kids’ parenting programme) with children whose parents had not been taught how to tune into their children’s emotions. The children whose parents had been taught emotions coaching had a much better understanding of different types of emotions and they also had fewer parent- and teacher-reported behaviour problems six months later.
This research suggests that I should continue to comfort my son when he is upset and not worry about making him independent. I do find it hard sometimes to deal with my son when he is angry but I have to remind myself to accept his strong feelings. Having read this research, when my son said he didn’t want to go to his new preschool a couple of weeks ago, I said to him that I understood that he was worried. I also resisted the temptation to say that he would be fine and instead told him that I had felt worried on my first day at school too. Acknowledging his worries seemed to make him much more willing to go into the new preschool and as I said in a previous post, he told me afterwards that he had enjoyed himself.