Emotion Coaching

We often spend a lot of effort teaching our children about a myriad of life and behavior skills: how to dress properly, how to use appropriate manners, how to read, to be healthy, to be active, develop their talents, to get their homework done on time, etc. According to John Gottman, Ph.D., one of the most influential therapists in America, children also need to be taught to understand their emotions, and to accept and manage them appropriately. The parental strategy of emotion coaching that Gottman developed has been since backed up by years of research and the experience of hundreds of parents. Perhaps you have heard about emotion coaching before.

Some main ideas behind emotion coaching are:

  • Children must be taught to understand their emotions and to give labels to them. They also need to be instructed on how to handle emotions in a positive and safe way.
  • All emotions are valid and “okay” to feel. A child’s behavior in response to an emotion might be unacceptable, but children’s feelings should be acknowledged and accepted.
  • Difficult or negative emotions are opportunities for teaching children to solve problems and regulate themselves.

Research indicates several benefits to children and families from having parents that use emotion coaching.

Children whose parents use emotion coaching:

– Have fewer behavioral problems and develop better relationships with peers.

– Are better able to self-regulate

– Engage in less aggressive behavior.

– Have higher self-esteem

– Show higher academic success

– Can calm themselves more quickly when they are upset.

Steps to Emotion Coaching:

1. Be aware of emotions in yourself and in your child. Parents who struggle with recognizing and accepting their own emotions have difficulty teaching their children about emotions. Some parents are in the habit of dismissing emotional feelings: “Stop being sad, you’re fine!” “Don’t be scared, that’s silly to be afraid of.” “It’s not okay to get angry!” “Just get over it.”

2. Recognize the teaching opportunity that accompanies emotion. It may take some practice to identify negative (or positive) emotions rather than immediately disciplining a child.

3. Listen with empathy and validate a child’s feelings. It does wonders to simply state to your child what you perceive their emotions to be: “I can see you are feeling angry.” Helping a child know you are listening to them and that their emotions are valued, even if not logical, will lead them to better receive instruction.

4. Verbally label your child’s emotions or help them do so. This makes emotions less confusing and therefore less daunting and distressing. Find all the emotions a child is feeling and help them identify what the possible causes are. “I can see you are sad. Are you also feeling disappointed because your game was canceled?”

Ultimately, do your best to set boundaries and help your child problem solve. If their behavior was not appropriate help them understand this. Redirect their behavior and give consequences if necessary. Remember you are limiting their behavior, not their emotion. As the parent, your job is to help your child think of possible solutions for how they could appropriately manage their feelings now and in the future.

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Carter, C. (Mar 19, 2009). Emotion coaching: one of the most important parent practices in the history of the universe. In the Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/emotion_coaching_one_of_the_most_important_parenting_practices_in_the_histo

Gus, L. Rose, J., & Gilbert, L. (Mar. 1, 2015). Emotion coaching: A universal strategy for supporting and promoting sustainable emotional & behavioral well-being. In Educational & Child Psychology. Retrieved from: https://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e9d697e0-c8ae-4b71-a157-e7aec282d420%40sessionmgr103&vid=3&hid=127

Talaris Institute. (2017). The five steps of emotion coaching. Retrieved from: http://www.parentingcounts.org/information/timeline/five-steps-of-emotion-coaching/

For more information on parental emotional styles and their effect on children, see: https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-introduction-to-emotion-coaching/

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