We all want our children to be emotionally resilient, which means they are able to process, and express their emotions in healthy ways. It also means they are able to make it through difficult times in their lives because they have the skills they need to do so.
Emotion Coaching is a parenting technique that helps children understand their feelings. When parents Emotion Coach, their children learn how emotions work and how to react to feelings in healthy ways. Parents who emotion coach help their children develop emotional resiliency.
This presentation is for any parent who wants to raise an emotionally resilient child. It is also for parents who are struggling with their child’s BIG emotions such as rage, extreme sadness, frustration and jealousy. It provides a very concrete, practical approach to responding to your child’s emotions. My hope is you will leave feeling more empowered and prepared to deal with your child’s big emotions.
5 Steps of Emotion Coaching
Step 1: Attend to the Emotion
Attend to your loved one’s emotional experience by approaching the situation calmly and acknowledging the presence of emotion (essentially not ignoring the child’s expression of emotion, whether subtle or obvious).
“I see that something is up.”
Step 2: Name It
Put into words the emotions (or range of emotions) that you think your loved one might possibly be experiencing. You may also help them to identify and describe the bodily felt sense that accompanies each named emotion.
“You look sad.”
Step 3: Validate the Emotion
This is the most important and yet the most challenging of all of the steps of emotion coaching. It communicates: “I understand you and your unique experience.”
Validating involves putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes and conveying understanding of their experience as they are experiencing it. This involves imagining what the situation must be like for them. It is important to accept, allow, and validate emotions that are different from what you expected or that are hard for you to understand.
When validating, it is also very important to resist going for the bright side, explaining with logic or trying to help them to see the situation as you see it. If you can do this, you will be showing your loved one that you understand them (and their unique experience) and this will 1) improve your relationship, 2) encourage them to keep coming to you when things get tough and 3) help them to move forward from the emotional challenge.
When validating it is also very important to “speak the unspoken”. Speaking the unspoken involves speaking that truth that you both know, but that neither of you want to say out loud.
“I can understand why you might feel sad. It really hurts to be excluded, especially when all of your friends are going to the party”.
Step 4: Meet the Need
When meeting the emotion need, it is important to refer back to the basics of emotions. Each emotion has a corresponding need from the environment.
•Sadness: soothing, giving a hug
•Anger: helping to set and defend boundaries
•Fear: protecting from danger (we do not protect anxiety! A real danger must be involved)
•Anxiety: helping to confront the anxiety-provoking situation with love and support
“Come here. Let me give you a hug.”
Step 5: Fix It/Problem-Solve
Attending to, naming and validating an emotion/emotional experience goes a long way in reducing the power of the pain. As such, this step often is unnecessary since engaging in the prior steps decrease the strength of the emotion and help the child to engage in their own problem-solving.
When this step is required, problem solving communicates “I will help you sort to this out” and it can be very helpful, but only if it comes after attending, labeling and validating the emotional experience of the child.
“Why don’t we sort out how you are going to deal with this situation when you see your friends next. And then why not catch a movie? It won’t be the same – but I think we can still have a nice time.”
Additional note: This step is critical if the child is the victim of bullying. The child will need your support to develop strategies to stand up to bullies and to access supports at school or in the community, if appropriate. Walking away from a bully is not an effective strategy despite prior teachings encouraging children to do so.