Emotion Coaching - A 5 Step Discipline Process

A Type of Discipline that Focuses on Feelings

Caucasian mother comforting son
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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 which focus on teaching kids about feelings so they can learn how to make better choices. It also helps build a positive relationship between parents and children while setting limits for misbehavior.

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 and listen to your child to become in tune with how your child expresses various feelings. This will help you identify his feelings before he begins exhibiting misbehavior.

2. Connect with Your Child

Gottman recommends that parents use highly emotional experiences as a way to connect with their child. Instead of turning away when a child has a tantrum to ignore the behavior, emotion coaching recommends that parents see emotional times as an opportunity for teaching.

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. Encourage him to try and talk about what he is experiencing.

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. Instead, point out how he appears to be feeling to validate to him that his feelings are okay.

Instead of saying, “Calm down. You shouldn’t be so upset just because you can’t have another cookie.” Say, “I see you are really mad and sad because you really wanted another cookie and I said you can’t have one.” By showing a child you can name his emotions, it helps soothes him and he won’t have to put energy into trying to show you how he feels.

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 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. A child who tends to throw things when he feels angry would be encouraged to create a list of more appropriate behaviors he can do when he feels mad. He might decide that drawing a picture, doing 10 jumping jacks, or ripping up a piece of scrap paper are all more appropriate ways to deal with his anger.

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. Just make sure that children are clear that any negative consequences are due to their behavior and not their feelings.

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