Emotion coaching is a way of helping children deal with different emotions. So what is it exactly, what are the benefits and how is it done? Let’s dive deeper..
Feelings are a part of our everyday life and help to shape who we are. We can all agree that, at times, life can get pretty stressful. Preparing children to understand their emotions, their emotional reactions and coping mechanisms from a younger age can help them in the long run.
Once children have the confidence to deal with their emotions, they have a better chance of success in other aspects of their life too – intellectually and socially. There are many things adults can do to support children’s emotional development, so let’s take a look at what emotion coaching is.
What is emotion coaching?
Emotion coaching is an approach used to support children in recognising what they are feeling. It also involves teaching children coping strategies to manage their positive and negative emotions for better self-esteem and emotional regulation. Simply put, emotion coaching is a communication tool that adults can use as teachable moments to support a child’s negative emotions and ultimately assist children in developing resilience.
“Emotion coaching is helping children understand the different emotions they experience, why they occur, and how to handle them. In the simplest terms, you can coach your children about emotions by comforting them, listening and understanding their thoughts and feelings, and helping them understand themselves. As you do this, your children will feel loved, supported, respected, and valued. With this emotionally supportive foundation, you will be much more successful at setting limits and problem solving.”relationshipsnsw.org.au/emotion-coaching-parents-bring-out-the-best-in-your-kids
What are the steps to emotion coaching?
According to American psychologist John Gottman, five critical steps can help guide children when responding to their feelings and emotions;
1. Be aware of emotions.
Know your child well enough to understand when they are not themselves. Over time, if you can identify your child’s emotional state early, it will save matters from intensifying. Ask them, “are you okay” or “would you like to sit down and talk about it”.
2. Connect with your child
No matter what the child feels, it’s essential to take it as an opportunity to teach children how to manage their feelings. Try to step into the child’s shoes and understand things from their perspective. Say things such as, “I noticed you aren’t feeling yourself. Is there anything I can do to help?”
3. Listen to your child
We may not realise it, but when running day-to-day errands, we sometimes forget how much guidance and support children really need. Set any judgements aside and simply be present to listen to how your child feels. Ask them, “Are you feeling….” so they can explain themselves more elaborately if they don’t have the right words.
4. Help your child to label emotions
This is a highly critical step in emotion coaching. Children often can’t comprehend what they are feeling in their early years. It can be an overwhelming and scary experience for them. Talk about emotions openly, e.g. happy, sad, angry, frustrated. (There are also numerous children’s books available to teach children to identify emotions).
Also, model identifying your own emotions as children often look up to adults as role models. Be open-minded with children to create a safe space where they can communicate without judgement and be valued for their opinions.
5. Find Solutions
We need to provide the best possible care for children and sometimes explain situations. Discuss with children how they could have reacted differently and find solutions. Setting limits and boundaries is also crucial to maintain consistency. Ask questions like “What do you think would be helpful in this situation?” Give them suggestions of how to deal with negative feelings with real examples that are helpful, that are non destructive and won’t hurt anyone else. For example, “If you’re feeling angry about something, it can help if we hit a pillow, or go for a big run.”
Can you use emotion coaching with any age child?
Yes, emotion coaching can be done from birth to the teenage years. Initially, in the toddler and pre-school phase, children will struggle the most to convey their feelings, and may display tantrums and have outbursts, but as they learn more vocabulary and can verbalise their thoughts, it should become more manageable. It can be very helpful to read age-appropriate books on emotions, as well as discuss facial expressions, and how our faces, as well as the faces of others, can express how someone is feeling. Early intervention is the best way to help children understand their emotions.
Australian EdTech Startup Cognivocal even released an emotion coaching app for parents of primary school-aged children. The aim is to create more awareness of mental health disorders and support parents to help them with children who may have emotional disorders.
Once children reach adoloescent age, adolescent anger regulation becomes a whole new challenge as hormones kick in and are racing. Just as young kids need guidance, it’s just as important to discuss with adolescents some healthy ways of dealing with difficult emotions so that teens don’t use more destructive methods to deal, such as with drugs and alcohol.
Of course, encouraging a child’s emotional expression can also be very dependent on your own parenting style, your personality and how you were raised yourself, and how you deal with your own emotional problems. Not every parent would call themselves an emotion coaching parent but with some simple tips and some basic emotional awareness, you can help your child so that they have a better chance at successful lives.
How do you use emotion coaching with young children?
Emotion coaching needs to be simplified to suit the developmental needs of young children, and you will need to be patient. It is best done by giving children time to understand and then apply the knowledge they have learned. Keep in mind that it will also take a lot more practice, and the same situations may repeatedly arise until children can regulate their emotions independently.
When is it appropriate to use emotion coaching?
There is no set criteria that you need to spend a required amount of time using emotion coaching. When you see your child struggling to deal with his or her emotions or feeling overwhelmed, that is the time to step in and support them. Regularly communicating with children and just letting them know you are there for them is part of the process!
What are the benefits of using emotion coaching?
An article by The Conversation highlights the following benefits of emotion coaching:
- Children are more aware of their emotions and have better self-regulation
- Children are better at problem-solving
- Helps to build confidence and self-esteem
- Children are more resilient
- Children have fewer academic challenges
- Children have better social skills and relationships with others
Relationship NSW even outlined that children who have had emotion coaching have a lower risk of being associated with youth violence, drug addiction, anxiety disorder, antisocial behaviour and adolescent suicide.
What are some tips for being a good emotion coach?
- Identify triggers – there may be certain situations that cause children to react a certain way when there is heightened emotion. Identifying these early on will help manage the problem more efficiently.
- Try not to multi-task – be present in the moment and show children that you are listening by putting any other work aside for a little while.
- Understand that emotion coaching takes time – emotion coaching is not something that is taught overnight. It has to be practised and children need to be able to adapt their knowledge to different scenarios
- Use everyday opportunities to teach emotion coaching – emotion coaching needs to be embedded in experiences during our everyday life
- Set goals – create achievable short-term and long-term goals and help children accomplish these.
- Recognize the difference between feeling strong emotions and behavioural problems – it is important to know the difference between feeling strong emotions and behavioural problems such as violence, manipulation and potential indicators of another condition such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).
Does emotion coaching really make a difference?
Yes it does! This great BBC article outlines why emotional coaching makes a difference in children’s lives. The article discusses that memories of pain often shape our future experiences too. If we remember a distressing memory, we will be much more anxious every time we go through a similar experience.
Instead, if parents intervene and support a child’s emotions and how to deal with them early on, children will be able to tackle situations more confidently.
What are some examples of emotion coaching?
- Sharing examples of your own life can give real perspectives to children – share a scenario and how you dealt with an emotion in a healthy way.
- Telling children, “It’s okay to feel how you feel, take a deep breath, count to 10 and let’s pause for a while.”
- Empower children to understand they are the only one in charge of their own emotions. Situations can trigger an emotional response, but ultimately, we are in charge of how re respond, and we get to CHOOSE how to feel!
- Discuss and suggest tools for dealing with negative emotions – if we feel ‘sad’, we can try XYZ (perhaps taking a bath, having a long cuddle, having a cry and watching a favourite movie)
- Once children are calm, asking them what they have learned from the situation can help to deal with it the next time it arises.
Emotion coaching for young children has multiple benefits and is something that should be encouraged as early as possible. The five-step approach developed by John Gottman is important to help teach children to recognize their emotions and develop coping strategies to use in stressful circumstances.
Research has also shown a positive correlation between emotion coaching and children’s other developmental outcomes, such as academics and social well-being. If your child displays a lot of aggression or the coaching does not seem to have an impact, you may need to seek help from a therapist or psychologist.
Developing a child’s emotional awareness will lead to a higher level of emotional intelligence and set them up for success. This will require you, as the adult to not only have an awareness of your child’s feelings, but also have a certain level of awareness of your own feelings too, and how you deal with your own emotions.
Have you struggled with supporting children’s emotions and helping children deal with emotional moments? Have you heard of or tried emotion coaching before? Let me know in the comments!