As parents, we can often have difficulty in knowing how to manage our children’s emotions.  How should we respond when our child gets angry?  How should we respond if they are anxious? Sad? Frustrated? There are so many conflicting ideas out there, it’s hard to know what to do.  With many of my clients, I work with them in becoming emotional coaches for their children.

Emotion Coaching is a parenting technique that helps children understand their feelings, helps them learn how emotions work and how to react to feelings in healthy ways.  It’s more about supporting children in learning about and regulating their own emotions and behaviour.

According to attachment theory expert Dr. John Gottman, there are five steps to emotion coaching, and they can be practiced by parents or any significant adult in a child’s life:

  1. Tune in: Notice or become aware of your own and the child’s emotions.  What are you noticing in your child?  Are they getting upset? Are they making grunts and clenching their fists? Are they getting Frustrated at things not going their way? Do you notice that their shoulders are dropped and they are looking down?
  2. Connect: Use this situation as an opportunity for you to practice and for the child to learn. State objectively what emotions you think your child is experiencing to help them connect their emotions to their behaviour; ‘Hi Billy-bob, are you okay, you look sad/frustrated/worried/ stressed?
  3. Accept and Listen: Practice empathy. Put yourself in the child’s shoes, think about a situation when you felt a similar emotion, and try to remember what it felt like.  Let your child know that it is understandable that they are having these emotions.  So often, we may say, its ok/don’t worry about it/ you’re be fine/you’re better off without them.  Sometimes we try to protect our children by minimising the situation, or even worse, we try to solve their problems ‘you know what you should do? You should….’ But it is important for kids to know that we understand their troubles, it’s okay for them to feel like the way they do. Validate their difficulties: ‘I can see this is hard for you/It’s understandable that you’re feeling that way/That’s unfair’
  4. Reflect: Go back over what your child said or did, mentioning only what you saw, heard, or understand of the situation. Reflect on what happened and why it happened;
  5. End with a Plan/Choices/Setting Limits: Whenever possible, try to end the situation by guiding or involving the child in problem-solving.  Give the child something to work with.  So often obstacles can be overcome when we know beforehand how to deal with them.  If we have a plan of action before an issue arises, we are more likely to overcome them.  However, rather than you directly giving the solution, allow you children to determine their solution.  Instead of say ‘you need to….’, say ‘so what do you think needs to happen next time/ how do you think you could deal with this next time?’  If they don’t provide an appropriate response, you may respond with ‘Ok, what else?’  Or if they don’t have any ideas, offer suggestions ‘How about….’

In doing this, you are supporting your child in learning about and managing their emotions. 

So next time you see your child in distress, let them know that it’s okay for them to have big feelings, you understand their difficulties and provide opportunities for them to find solutions to their difficulties.  In doing so, your relationship with your child will be stronger and your child will be more prepared for the challenges life can bring.

If you would like more information on helping children with their emotions, reach out and get in touch with us. 

Darren West
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