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Emotion Coaching

Posted by admin 1:49 am, 23 February 2015

So often we see families at Mindright where the parents have the best intentions of being supportive and loving towards their children but are feeling frustrated that they just don’t understand why their children are acting in certain ways. Sometimes their children are throwing tantrums, acting out, pushing boundaries or feeling anxious or depressed. Whatever the reason that their child or teenager is feeling that way, one of the first and most helpful things that we focus on is teaching parents about how to be an Emotion Coach.

Emotion Coaching is helpful for all parents, no matter what their child presents with. It is based on empathy and focusses on helping parents to tune in to their child’s emotional world, while also setting limits behaviourally. Emotion Coaching is a theory that was developed by John Gottman though research and clinical experience, and is explained in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. The 5 steps to Emotion Coaching are as follows:

  1. Be aware of your child’s emotions, as well as your own emotions.

In order to be aware of your child’s emotions you must tune in to what they are feeling through empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they must be feeling, and try to find some understanding for their emotions, despite their behaviour. Pay attention to their facial expressions, body language and behaviour. It’s equally important to be aware of your own emotions so that you are aware of how these might be affecting your behaviour, and so that you can model to your child effective ways to deal with difficult negative emotions.


  1. Recognising the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

There is no better time to connect with your child than when they are experiencing difficult emotions. Your child needs you more when they are angry or sad than when they are happy and calm. Instead of seeing their anger as a challenge or their sadness as negativity, try to see all emotional experiences as a time for you to connect with them and teach them new skills about how to manage their emotions in healthy ways, which are among the most important and useful lessons that you will teach them


  1. Listening empathetically and validating the child’s feelings

This requires you to stop what you are doing and be present with your child. It’s then important to listen carefully to what your child is saying so that you are showing that you are trying to understand their emotional experience. Using phrases such as “Mmmm”, “I see” helps to show that you’re listening. Validating your child’s feelings means letting them know that you can understand why they feel the way that they feel, and make them feel that it’s ok to have any feeling.


  1. Helping the child verbally label emotions

This is only helpful after you have truly showed your child that you’ve made an effort to understand how they’re feeling. It involves helping them to learn about emotions and showing that you validate their emotions by helping your child to find label their emotions. Reflecting back to them the information that they give you with emotional labels is helpful: e.g. “It sounds like that made you angry”.

  1. Setting limits while helping the child problem solve

Once you have helped your child understand their feelings the next step is setting limits and problem solving with the child in a collaborative way. This is aimed at helping them find appropriate and helpful ways of dealing with their emotions. It might involve limit setting or consequences, identifying goals, thinking of possible solutions, discussing family values and helping your child choose a solution. For example, if they are angry and hit their sibling, try saying something such as “I understand why you felt angry and it’s ok to be angry, but it’s not ok to hit. Can you think of another way to let your brother know that you’re angry?”. It also might involve collaborating with your child about what an appropriate consequence might be.


Emotion coaching allows parents to teach kids how to deal with their emotions and makes them feel understood and unconditionally loved. It sets up a relationship of consideration, trust and respect between parents and children, and teaches kids how to deal with emotions in future situations. There are going to be some occasions where emotion coaching is not possible, such as when safety is an immediate concern or you are pushed for time, but if used most of the time, emotion coaching is the first step towards helping your child with any emotional or behavioural issues and helps them to grow into an emotionally intelligent adult.


Reference: John Gottman (1997). Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks: New York.