Using our emotions more wisely is one of the keys to better parenting, says parent coach Jennifer Day.
Emotions are tricky things when you’re a parent. You’re emotional all the time, whether that’s brimming with pride and joy, shaking with barely suppressed anger, or quaking with vicarious fear. You might cycle through all thee in the course of an hour.
Emotions are at the heart of parenting, and can have positive and negative effects. It’s perhaps our job as parents to maximise the positive ones and limit the negative ones as much as we can.
Jennifer Day is an emotion coach who works with parents – and very often dads – to refine their emotional responses. She says: “I help clients to get in touch with, understand, process and express their emotions in ways that improve their well-being, help them live up to their potential and strengthen their communication skills, relationships and parenting.”
There can’t be many dads who think they’ve completely mastered the art of communicating with their children, and Jennifer believes that being able to manage emotions is key to being the kind of parent you want to be.
“Unmanaged emotions tend to be at the core of parenting behaviour that we later regret – yelling at a child when we’re stressed for example, using language we later feel guilty about, or taking out our stress on our kids in other ways,” she says.
“Learning to master our stress reactions and other emotional knee-jerk responses, not only helps us be better parents, it also sets a great example for our children to learn from.”
Lack of confidence
Many of Jennifer’s clients are professionals – often executives with leadership positions – and over half of them are dads. They come to her because they feel guilty about not being present enough with their children, or because they want to influence them in some way but lack the communication skills to do so successfully and positively.
“The issues are many and varied, but most have in common what I mentioned earlier, that dads (and mums) feel insecure and not confident in themselves,” she says. “This is of course exacerbated by all the googling and the hundreds of books and blogs and podcasts telling them different things! Generally, dads come to me because they want to be better dads and leaders!”
We all know those feelings. We’re not around enough, or we are around but are lost in a blizzard of competing thoughts. Or we try to explain something to our children and it comes out as angry and critical instead of supportive and kind. And most of us have looked at the shiny, happy families on Facebook and judged ourselves harshly by comparison.
So what’s to be done? “I believe that all parents have a strong intuitive know-how or wisdom on how to raise their children best – you could say that each parent is the top expert on their child,” says Jennifer. “Unfortunately most parents today, especially dads, do not have the self- confidence or the presence of mind to tune into or listen to their own innate know-how.”
“I believe that all parents have a strong intuitive know-how or wisdom on how to raise their children best”
Cutting through the noise
Listening to this innate knowledge is key, she believes, but with the background noise of life louder than ever, how do you do that? Jennifer uses a technique called Applied Emotional Mastery, something she developed herself over many years of study.
“Helping parents to build their capacity for mastering emotions and stress (their own and their child’s) helps them tune into themselves and their intuitive parenting ‘north star’, and helps them apply their intuitive insights in their parenting. In so doing they build confidence in themselves and their child,” she says.
In practice, that means a ten session course of information and exercises tailored to the needs of each client. It might include science-based information and exploratory exercises, mindfulness sessions and a short written process. It depends on the individual, but whatever the precise ingredients, each session is focused on the issues clients are struggling with now.
These sessions are not magic bullets – they take work and commitment from clients to get results – but they seem to work. Jennifer adds: “All of my clients end up with a folder full of pages of processes they have done and information – much of it neuro-science and research – relevant to them and their issues. This can be useful for many years to come, and I do have many clients who come back to me after six, eight or ten years telling me they are still using or referring to their folder.”
Top tips for dads who want to be better parents
Jennifer talks through three steps to being a better dad…
1. Know your core values – they are the core of who you are and what you value.
Knowing your core values is key to knowing what triggers you as well as what matters most, and being aware of them can help you make choices about how you guide your children as well as which ‘battles to pick’ as a parent.
2. Be fully present with your children at least once a day.
For example: have meals together, without ANY devices at the table or even in the room. (Turn your phones off and place them in a basket in the hall.) This will help you all connect, fully. The quality of conversation will make a difference to your relationships and to your children’s social skills that cannot be matched.
3. To paraphrase, ‘Know Thyself’.
Connect with your emotions. Learn to tune into them and notice which ones lead you to behaving according to your values, and which ones result in behaviour you later regret. (Then of course learn to manage those emotions!)
Jennifer Day is a London-based executive and parent coach and author of eight books. Her latest – Intuitive Parenting – is published by Little Brown and is available now. Contact her at [email protected] or through LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/appliedemotionalmastery/