Three-year old Adalyn is playing babies with her mom.
Adalyn: This is my baby and that’s your baby. We’re the mommies.
Mom: Ok. So I’m the mom of this baby and you’re the mom of that baby.
Adalyn: Yep. Now our babies have stinky diapers and need to be changed. Get clean diapers.
Mom: Ok. I found some clean diapers here. Here’s one for your baby and here’s one for my baby.
Adalyn: [Opening the fresh diaper; the tabs are stuck on the diaper and she can’t figure it out. Her face appears angry and she quickly pulls on the diaper tabs, ripping them off. She pauses to look at what has happened and throws it at her mom] You gave me a bad diaper. Get me another one.
Mom: I gave you a diaper and you couldn’t get it figured out and now you’re feeling mad. I can tell because your face looks like this [Grimaces and tries to replicate the face that Adalyn is showing]. You were frustrated that the diaper wasn’t working the way you hoped it would and now you want another one.
Adalyn: Yeah. Get me another diaper.
Mom: I can get you another diaper and you can try to figure the diaper out again. [Mom grabs a new diaper and gives it to Adalyn] Here is another diaper for you. Can you get this one to work?
Adalyn: I dunno [Taking the diaper from her mom. Opens the diaper slowly, looking at the tabs. She starts to pull on the tabs the wrong way again].
Mom: It looks like you’re getting frustrated again because you can’t figure out those tabs. You’re pulling on them the same way you did last time when they broke and you got frustrated. What are you going to different this time?
Adalyn: These diapers are stupid.
Mom: You’re frustrated right now because you can’t figure out these diapers. You’re so little and you haven’t figured out how to use them yet, but you will soon. What could you do to figure this out?
Adalyn: You help me?
Mom: Yes, you could ask me for help. Would you like for me to help you?
Adalyn: Yeah. Help, please.
Mom: OK…I’ll tell you how to do it and you try it. OK?
Mom: See that part you’re grabbing right there?
Adalyn: Uh huh…
Mom: That’s the wrong part. That part stays on the diaper. The other side is the part to pull on. Can you try to pull on that side instead?
Adalyn: [switching sides of the tab] Hey…it’s workin’
Mom: Yeah. Now try it with the other side of the diaper too.
Adalyn: This part?
Mom: Yup…on that one too. Can you figure out which side is stuck to the diaper and which side you can pull off without breaking it?
Adalyn: [Pausing to think…] This one?
Mom: Yes. That’s the right side.
Adalyn: [Opening the diaper] I did it! And it didn’t break!
Mom: Yes you did! That diaper was really frustrating for you. You kept trying so hard to get it open but it wasn’t working. You looked really mad like this [showing an angry face]. But then you decided to ask me for help and I was able to teach you what you didn’t know yet since you’re still a little girl and you figured it out!]
Adalyn: Yeah. The diaper works now!
Mom: Yeah and you don’t feel frustrated anymore, do you?
Adalyn: No. I don’t look like this [Showing an angry face].
Mom: Good. It’s not fun to feel frustrated, but sometimes it happens. Next time you feel frustrated, if you ask me for help I might be able to help you feel better.
Young children typically feel emotions very strongly, but their understanding of those emotions is typically weak, at best. They need our help understanding how they react to the emotion, but stubborn children are rarely willing to admit that they need our help, and they’re even less willing to accept that help from us!
I used to always try to push my help onto these kids, only for it to be rejected. But once I started introducing words like, “I can help if you’d like, but you just let me know if you want my help” I realized that these stubborn kiddos were much more likely to accept my advice than before when I said, “Here…let me help you.”
How does your stubborn child react when you try to help him or her to understand their emotions and work through challenges that bring about big emotions like anger, frustration and sadness? How could you use the Emotion Coach Technique to help them to understand their emotions without rejecting your help?