Why do we care so much about what our kids eat? For me, there are a lot of reasons and everyone is different. But, if you boil it all down, it comes to this: we want our kids to live long, great lives.

As parents, it’s our job to teach our kids how to live a great life. Eating well is obviously an essential part of that. Unfortunately, it’s not the only thing … or else all the CEOs, Nobel Prize Winners and Presidents of the United States would say, “All it took was eating my fruits and veggies. Thanks Mom!”

Research shows that as a parent, another key to effective parenting to create successful kids is emotional coaching.

helping kids succeed

In “The Heart of Parenting,” John Gottman, Ph.D. says, “Studies indicate that the act of labeling emotions can have a soothing effect on the nervous system, helping children recover more quickly from upsetting incidents.”

Think about it. This is true for us adults too. When I have a tough day, I don’t want my husband or friends to help me problem-solve, I just want them to listen to me, tell me I’m not crazy, and that everything is going to be okay.

If we can help our kids identify their feelings, it helps them regulate their own emotions, their experience and their lives.

At our dinner table, this plays out too. My son finds it offensive when I make something for lunch or dinner he doesn’t like. As if it were my goal to upset him by mixing his plain noodles with spaghetti sauce or adding uninvited veggies to his plate. He gets upset. Very upset. And, since many of my efforts to get him to eat what I want have failed, I’ve been trying out the emotional coaching by just listening to him, noticing his feelings and helping him identify them–even at the kitchen island.

It looks a little like this:

Barrett: Moooooooooom, I hAAAAAte sauce on my noodles!!
Me: Okay, I didn’t realize you didn’t like that. You know, the sauce is good for your body. Do you think you could take a bite?
Barrett: NOOOO. I won’t. I want plaaaaaaain noodles.
Me: You’re angry that dinner isn’t what you want?
Barrett: Yes.
Me: I get it. I’m sorry.
Barrett: Silence.
Me: There are a lot of foods I wish I could eat all the time.
Barrett: You do?
Me: Oh yeah. But I want to eat foods that make my body healthy and strong, so I try to eat foods that are healthy not just always taste good.
Barrett: Like ice cream.
Me: Exactly. Think you might try your dinner tonight to make your body strong?
Barrett: Maybe a bite.

Now, I’m not saying this is magic. I’d love to tell you that picky eating is a thing of the past. But I feel really good knowing I’m helping Barrett feel understood, helping him regulate his emotions and setting ahead for the future and getting in a few extra bites of some good food along the way.

Life is hard. Eating healthy can be hard. Most good things are hard. But by adding emotional coaching to your parenting, you are equipping your kids to learn how to deal with hard things and how to succeed.

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  • Nice post with a nice message!

  • Excellent point! Labeling emotions is important *all* the time – helping children to understand and accept their emotions is extremely empowering. Doing so at the dinner table can help deescalate so called “food battles” and show children that although you understand their emotions, there is something that they need to do because it’s good for them (eat sauce on their noodles!). It may also have the benefit of helping them to avoid emotional eating. Thanks for your insight.

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