How to Use Emotion Coaching With Your Kids

Emotion coaching helps kids learn about their feelings.
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Emotion coaching is one of the five main types of discipline that is based largely on Washington state's psychology researcher John Gottman. According to Gottman’s research, when parents give kids the skills they need to deal with emotions, they’ll have more self-confidence, do better in school, and experience healthier relationships.

Gottman spent years studying how parents can best help children learn how to effectively manage their positive and negative emotions. He broke down the process into five steps that focus on teaching kids about feelings so they can learn how to make better choices.

1. Be Aware of Emotions

Emotion coaching requires parents to become aware of their child’s emotions as well as their own emotions. Allowing yourself and your child the freedom to feel any emotion is the heart of emotion coaching. Feelings are okay and no one should be judged or criticized for feeling a certain way.

Pay attention to the ways in which your child responds to emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger, and excitement. Look for cues, such as body language, facial gestures, and behavioral changes.

Observe your child so you can become in tune with how she expresses various feelings. This will help you identify the link between her feelings and her behavior.

2. Connect With Your Child

Gottman recommends parents connect with their children through highly emotional experiences. Instead of turning away when a child has a tantrum to ignore the behavior—like is recommended in behavior modification—emotion coaching recommends direct instruction.

Encourage your child to recognize his emotions. Help him verbalize his feelings.

Intervene when you notice he is becoming upset so you can offer guidance and prevent misbehavior. Don’t try to fix your child’s negative emotions but show him that it is normal to have lots of different kinds of feelings.

3. Listen to Your Child

Listening to a child is an essential part of emotion coaching. Validate your child’s feelings and show him that you accept his feelings.

Also, show that you take your child’s emotions seriously. Avoid saying things like, "Quit worrying. It's not a big deal," because your child's challenges are a big deal to him.

4. Name Emotions

Help your child learn how to recognize and verbalize his feelings. Don’t try to tell him what he should be feeling.

So instead of saying, "Don't be scared," point out how he appears to be feeling to validate to him that his feelings are okay. Say something like, "It's normal to be nervous before getting on stage."

Labeling your child's feelings will increase his emotional vocabulary. Additionally, when you show your child you understand how he feels, he'll put less energy into trying to show you that's he's upset.

5. Find Solutions

Emotion coaching focuses on preventing misbehavior when possible. When a child is entering into a situation where he’s likely to become easily frustrated, help him identify ways to manage his frustration ahead of time.

Say, “I know going to the grocery store is hard because it takes a long time and sometimes you feel impatient. Today, when you start to feel frustrated, tell me and we’ll take a break for a few minutes to help you calm down.”

When your child misbehaves, encourage him to identify that feeling that led to the behavior. Then, teach problem-solving skills and work together on finding creative solutions.

When possible, let kids develop their own creative solutions. So if your child throws things when he gets angry, sit down together and create a list of other things he could do when he's mad.

He might decide to do 10 jumping jacks, drawing pictures, or blowing bubbles helps him deal with his anger. Then, the next time he's angry, encourage him to try using one of his ideas to calm down.

Catch your child being good as often as possible and use praise to encourage positive behavior. Set limits when necessary by using discipline techniques such as logical consequences or time out.

Provide negative consequences when your child misbehaves. Just make it clear that you are correcting your child's behavior, not her feelings. So while it's OK to feel angry, it's not OK to hit.

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