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MWMG Pediatrics

Family Values

March 2009

Elaine Stone

In a moments span, squeals of elation turn to sobs of sadness. Maybe a swing accident, a hide ‘n seek game run amuck, or a thousand and one scenarios, but such is life. Emotions attach themselves to every experience and situation. Life cannot be contemplated in an emotionless vacuum. Humans are built with emotions and lots of them. How people “feel about things” is automatic, as natural as breathing. Learning to deal with emotions is the struggle of life.

Dr. John Gottman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington, has studied parent-child relationships for over thirty years. He says, “We spend a lot of time teaching our children simple things such as tying their shoes, yet we often expect them to learn how to handle complex feelings like anger, sadness and frustration without much help. Research studies make it clear that children do better when parents nurture, support and encourage their emotional development.” Dr. Gottman’s research has shown that, “children who can understand and cope with emotions do better in school, form stronger relationships, have fewer behavioral problems and generally lead happier, healthier and less stressful lives.” In response to his research, he has developed a plan for parents entitled, Emotion Coaching. This approach to parenting is meant to “help forge stronger family bonds while preparing children to cope with the powerful world of emotions they face everyday.” (, accessed Jan. 2009)

The first basic step in Emotion Coaching is teaching children to identify their emotions. Children are not born knowing what they’re feeling. Until someone helps them attach words to their feelings, they are at a loss. Adults, having dealt with emotions every minute of their lives, forget there was a time the word “happy” or “sad” was not attached to a physical response. Children on the other hand are having emotional responses constantly, but cannot define or identify what they are. Adult and parental help is paramount for them to learn and identify what their feelings mean. In Gary Pearson’s article, Teaching Kids to Identify Their Emotions, he states, “It's not enough to tell kids to stay in school and progress through the ranks to college and beyond. Educating kids that it is important to graduate high school and go to college to get a well paying job is no more important for their lives as is identifying emotions. "The real world" beyond education is littered with many situations where self-control and self-interpretation of emotions is crucial in social networks in the workplace and in their personal life, which impact and influence each other.” (, accessed Jan. 2009)

Identifying emotions sounds easy, but is not always easy. Dr. Gottman explains that “parents and caregivers can help children develop a rich and accurate vocabulary for their emotions. To do this, parents and caregivers can: (1) Start identifying emotions together early—you can begin even before the child can talk. One way is to use a game that Dr. Gottman calls 'The Guys,' where a parent draws a different face on each finger—one finger might have an angry face, while others could have sadness, happiness, surprise, or fear. These 'guys' then talk about their day, and why they feel a certain way. After hearing from each 'guy,' you can ask your child to grab the finger that is the most like they way they feel (this can start as early as 9 months or so). (2) Use puppets to show different emotions and then talk about what these emotions are called, and when people feel them. (3) Refrain from telling children what they ought to feel—try to identify the emotions they are feeling. (4) Model identifying your own emotions—children learn by watching and copying what adults do.”

Parents begin by identifying their own emotions. They progress by observing children; reading their emotions and attaching words. Before they can talk intelligently, parents begin labeling their emotions; “Hope is happy. She is smiling at Mommy.” After they have begun verbal communication, asking about their feelings helps them begin to label their own emotions; “Tell Dad how you feel.” This involves parents helping them to verbalize. Feeling anxious, nervous, envious, etc. are complex emotions and take some figuring out to define. So, don’t expect children to be able to label what has not yet been experienced or defined to them. After many episodes of “butterflies”, adults know “butterflies” in the stomach signals, anxiety or nervousness. But, children, experiencing the many situations of life, are bombarded with new and mixed emotions all the time. It takes caring involved parents/caregivers to help them identify and articulate their emotions. Dr. Gottman’s research further revealed that, “Putting a name to the emotion not only helps children make sense of what they are feeling. Research studies suggest that it also helps calm their nervous systems and helps them recover faster from upsetting situations. It shows that they are understood, and that is something all of us find comforting.” (, accessed Jan. 2009)

“Teaching kids to identify their emotions before they succumb to reaction is the job of the parents and adults -teachers, guidance counselors- raising the kids. It is most important to imbue a sound foundation for identifying and correcting their emotions so that they mature into rational adults who can control their emotions and act appropriately.” (, accessed Jan. 2009) Learning how to work with and control emotions promotes physical, mental, and social health. Understanding inner emotions and personal reactions probably has more to do with success in the outside world than acquiring degrees or mastering academic skills. Emotion identification and coaching is a skill parents need to spend time developing; guiding their young ones onto emotional health and stability.

Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania. Write: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Internet Help:

2 minute Video: How to Identify Emotions in Kids

Identifying Facial Expressions Test

Feeling Face Cards - Counselors and teachers use the 42 Feeling Faces Cards like emotional flash cards to help individuals identify emotions and share important thoughts about feelings.


Mental Help –

The Gottman Institute -

Patterns among parents who have trouble teaching emotional intelligence

1.) Dismissing Parents: These parents disregard, ignore or trivialize their children's negative emotions.

2.) Disapproving parents: They are directly critical of their child's displays of negative feelings and may even reprimand them for emotional expression.

3.) Laissez-Faire Parents: They accept their child's emotions and empathize with them, but they fail to offer any guidance or to set limits on their child's behavior.

(, accessed Jan. 2009)

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Pouches' Community Corner

Pouches Visits the Past


If Pouches' experience at History Camp is any indication, your son or daughter will enjoy joining Washington Heritage Museums and the George Washington Foundation for History Camp in Fredericksburg. The week-long day camp will be held June 25-29, from 9:00 a.m. to noon each day.

Young historians discover American history with hands-on experiences as they walk in the footsteps where the history of Fredericksburg, and a budding America, was created. The camp complements the history taught in classrooms with activities such as soap making, code breaking, colonial crafts, penmanship and much more.