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Grandparenting: An experience to treasure

Help with families and relationshipsJune 1, 20232 minute read
A photo of a playful grandfather and granddaughter. They are casually dressed and playing in the park. They exercise together. A grandfather is exercising while granddaughters are sitting on his back.

The joys, the laughter, the challenges, the emotions! It's Grandparenting in full swing. But how do you deepen connection and understand the world of your grandchild's emotions? One great way is through Emotion Coaching.

Emotion coaching is based on Dr John Gottman's research around emotional intelligence and how this can be developed to enhance relationships. Emotion coaching is both a technique and way of being. It helps you to understand and respond to your own emotions and those of your grandchildren. It also helps your grandchild recognise and manage their own emotional experiences.

Here are five emotion coaching steps for grandparents:

(adapted from the parenting program - Tuning in to TeensTM Emotionally Intelligent Parenting. (2019) Havighurst, Harley and Kehoe)

1. Tuning in: Become aware of emotions

Tune in and notice your grandchild's emotions – be aware of body language, facial expressions and lower intensity feelings (such as disappointment) which can sometimes go unnoticed.

2. Connect and teach: it's an opportunity

See the emotion as a chance to build the relationship and to help your child in understanding and responding to their feelings.

3. Accept and listen: show understanding and empathy  

Naturally you don't like seeing your grandchild hurting and your default response can be to reassure or fix the problem. Try to hold that and first respond with empathy to the emotion. This can deepen trust and connection, and help your grandchild to be more open about how they are feeling.

4. Reflect: what you hear and see. Name the emotions

Help your grandchild describe what they feel. By verbally labelling the emotions it can bring down the intensity of the emotion. Dan Seigel, a Psychiatrist uses the catchy phrase 'Name it to Tame it' to describe this.

5. End with problem solving and setting limits if necessary

Try eliciting your grandchild's ideas around how to solve the problem. Brainstorm solutions together. Set boundaries/consequences if needed. Remember all feelings are OK but not necessarily all behaviours. 

It is also helpful to note the difference between emotion dismissing and emotion coaching.

An emotion dismissing response might be: 'Don't worry. You'll be fine' or to jump straight into problem solving. An emotion coaching response tunes in to the emotion, 'It sounds like you might be a bit nervous' … 'What's helped you when you've felt worried in the past?'

Anglicare offers parenting courses which can help you further develop your emotion coaching skills.

Anglicare acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original and ongoing custodians of the lands and waters on which we live and work.

Inspired by the gospel of reconciliation in Jesus Christ, Anglicare's vision for reconciliation is a nation in which Australia's First Peoples are restored in dignity, respect, empowerment and opportunity.