Emotion Coaching Your Child

The Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Emotion Coaching

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As Parents, we are our child’s “Life” Coach.  We’re their go-to guide when the going gets tough!  And what can be tougher to navigate in this world than our very own emotions?!  Your child needs you to be their emotion coach!

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Emotion coaching boy yelling

What is Emotion Coaching

Emotion coaching is allowing your child to experience their emotions and helping them respond to those emotions in a productive way. You can allow the feelings, but not always the behavior your child chooses to respond with.

To further clarify what Emotion Coaching is, let me tell you what it is NOT

  • Telling your child how they should feel.
  • Thinking that negative emotions are a bad thing and that your child should feel happy constantly.
  • Telling yourself or your child that their emotions are silly or irrational and therefore do not matter.
  • Isolating your child when their emotions are overwhelming so they can deal with them alone.
  • Allowing your child to feel their emotions but never helping them to solve their problem.

Why are Emotions so important anyway?

Can I just ramble here for a minute and give you my two cents? It is so important to understand and appreciate that as humans it is God’s gift to us to experience ALL of the emotions.  The good, the bad, and the sometimes VERY ugly.  (I’m talkin’ tired and hungry two year old who was just denied candy at the grocery store checkout! Mmmhmmm. Yep. If you’re reading this, I’m fairly certain you know exactly what I’m talking about!). After all, how could we appreciate the happy and joyful times without the frustrating, angry, and sad times? 

The easy answer is…we couldn’t!  We have been trained to associate negative emotions as “bad” emotions.  It’s time to change our mindset!  So listen up!  The whole rainbow of emotions is both Godly and necessary for our growth and pursuit to become more like our Savior!  

It’s Time to Change Your Mindset About Your Child’s Emotions!

Our negative emotions can actually be a good thing. Have you seen “Inside Out” lately? Joy didn’t want Sadness to touch any of the memories because she was making them sad. SPOILER ALERT! At the end of the movie, we learn that Sadness was necessary to bring Joy back into Riley’s life! It’s a great movie, so go watch it if you haven’t yet!!

Emotions are Always Good, But What About the Behavior?

Accept your child’s emotions, but you’ll need to set limits on behavior! Being mad is okay and understandable, but hitting your sister is NOT okay and does not solve your problem.

Our biggest challenge in this life is to overcome the natural man…”For the natural man is an enemy to God”.  Does that mean that God Himself doesn’t experience emotions?  Nope!  We learn from the Bible that our God experiences both joy and sorrow.  We learn that Christ was angry to find merchants within the walls of the temple.  Doesn’t it make complete sense that we, who are God’s children, would experience the same emotions?  

Just for clarification…Is feeling angry a sin? No.  The emotion itself is not a sin. However, if we choose to respond by yelling, throwing things, saying unkind and hurtful words to those around us…that’s a different story!  How we choose to respond to our emotions is the difficult part!  And that’s where intentional growth comes into play!  Let’s get off the struggle bus and start learning to accept our emotions and respond to them in a positive way.  

Why Every Parent Should Learn and Actively Practice Emotion Coaching in Their Home

Emotions are a Healthy Part of Life

We want our children to learn that emotions are a part of life.  It’s okay and healthy to feel them.  Your child will be more capable, confident, social, happier, and even perform better in school… simply because you took the time for emotion coaching!  

Emotion Coaching Creates a Strong Parent-Child Bond
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Emotion Coaching Strengthens the Parent-Child Relationship

When you teach your children about emotions and are willing to listen and empathize with them, then your bond with our child GROWS! They learn that their emotions…even those negative ones, are NOT a burden to us. When asked, “How was your day?” they will respond with a genuine answer. Not a lame, “Fine”. Why? Because they’ll know you genuinely care!

All that time you spent empathizing with them, followed by coaching them on how to appropriately respond to their emotions reinforces your love and concern for your child.

Emotion coaching opens up a close connection between parent and child.  We want communication to stay wide open through all stages of their childhood…but especially their teenage years when life presents new, sometimes dangerous, challenges.  

Where Do I Start Emotion Coaching My Child

  • Start by Listening!  Listen to your child with your whole body!  Stop what you’re doing. Put your phone down. Face their direction and look directly at them.  
  • Show empathy to your child.  When they’re clearly upset, stop and put yourself in their shoes.  Try to understand what they’re feeling and let them know that their emotions make perfect sense.  Don’t scold them for being upset!  Don’t tell them they’re overreacting! And don’t tell them how to solve their problem.  
  • Read Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman.  This book is the Gold standard when it comes to learning how to become an emotion coach! Gottman outlines the 5 main steps of emotion coaching. 
    • 1) Recognize the Child’s emotion.
    • 2) Utilize the emotion as a learning opportunity
    • 3) Empathize with your child’s feelings
    • 4) Help your child label his/her emotions
    • 5) Help your child to problem-solve
  • Start with Yourself! Controlling our emotions isn’t a lesson that is unique to children!  If you didn’t grow up learning emotional intelligence, teaching this concept may feel a bit foreign to you.  That’s okay!  It’s NEVER too late to learn!  In fact, adults need to learn to recognize and respond appropriately to their own emotions just as much, if not more so, than children.  Children learn from our example

Dear Mom and Dad…

It is okay to allow yourself to feel your emotions.  In fact, when you experience negative emotions yourself, it’s a great idea to tell your child what you’re feeling and what you are going to do to process that emotion. This shows your child how normal emotions are as well as beautifully modeling an appropriate way to respond to negative emotions! Positive modeling is your most powerful tool!

Tips for Successful Emotion Coaching

Address Your Child’s Basic Needs

**It is important to understand that Emotions are big and are often difficult for adults to control.  A lot of physical factors can cause those emotions to escalate out of proportion.  I.e.  Hangry much?  Tiredness.  It’s so much easier to feel irritated with the world when you’re hungry, thirsty, tired, or just not feeling well.  Remember to address your child’s physical needs to empower them to be at their best while they learn to navigate the wonderful world of emotions. 

Give Them Words

Wouldn’t life be incredibly frustrating if you weren’t able to communicate what you were feeling or thinking? My mom suffered an intense stroke a few years ago that took away her ability to communicate. Oh how she tries and Tries! I can see the frustration, then sadness in her face when no one understands what she is so desperately trying to say.

Now imagine being 2 years old, not completely sure what you’re feeling, and not having the words to tell those around you what you need! Miserable, right?!

But you can help! When you see them struggling, help them name their emotion and empathize with them. This helps them name their emotion, but also lets them know their emotion is valid and a normal response.

Bust out the Books!

Picture books are not only an excellent way to boost your child’s vocabulary; but, they will also introduce them to appropriate ways to process their emotions.

  • All About Feelings An absolute favorite in our house! I love the variety of activities and how easily it sparks conversations about emotions and how we can manage them.
  • Red Red Red Have a little that struggles with anger? You’ll want to add this one to your bookshelf for sure!
  • Questions and Answers: What Are Feelings? This one is a fun lift the flap book designed for kids 3+. It does a beautiful job empowering your kiddos with words to describe their emotions and discusses how to respond to them.
  • The Unworry Book There are actually several books in this series, and they are all amazing! The Unworry Book is packed with activities to help your child understand their emotions better, develop coping strategies, and practice relaxation exercises. It’s perfect if you have a child that struggles with anxiety!

Childhood anxiety is very real and the journey can feel long. And the emotions are B.I.G! If you want to read more about my family’s personal experience with anxiety, I wrote a post on How to Help Your Child With Anxiety and would love for you to check it out!

Allow Your Child Time to Feel the Emotion

I know you love your child and want them to be happy. But can they truly be happy if they don’t experience and learn to deal with sadness, anger, frustration, and disappointment? All emotions, the good and the bad, are all a part of this wonderful life. After all, without the bad, you cannot appreciate the good!

If you give your child some time to experience the emotion, they will learn more quickly to identify the emotion and accept it as a normal part of life. Once they have accepted the emotion, they are then able to process the emotion more quickly. When you allow your child to feel the negative emotion, it will begin to dissipate.

In other words…emotion coaching your child gives your child the experience they need to identify, accept, and process their emotions.

Common Questions About Emotion Coaching

How is emotion coaching helpful to the child?

If a child can understand their own emotions, they are empowered to better control their response to those emotions. Understanding and appropriately responding to emotions is a valuable skill! Your child’s self confidence will increase and they will have gained the ability to create healthy relationships with others.

What does an emotionally healthy child look like?

A child who has been given emotion coaching is a well-rounded child. He or She is confident, has healthy relationships with his family and friends, and is emotionally resilient. When life gets tough, he knows how to process the negative emotions that will inevitably come and he faces them head-on.

A child who is emotionally healthy performs better in all aspects of his life! He performs better academically, sleeps well, and is physically healthier.

Notice that I never said life would be free of negative emotions. Moreover, the ability to bounce back and to continue progressing is an invaluable life skill. A life skill that will set your child up for successful adulthood!

How do I Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child

If you’re serious about focusing on emotional intelligence in your home, I highly recommend you get a copy of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by Gottman. The information you’ll find in this book will become a powerful tool for emotional health in your home!

With practice, finding opportunities to discuss emotions and problem solve with your child will become second nature!

At What Age Should You Begin Emotion Coaching Your Child?

The short answer to when you should begin emotion coaching your child is…The SOONER THE BETTER! I have an 11-month-old and I try to use emotion coaching even with her! Just like I feel like it’s never too early to sing the ABC’s to your child, it’s never too early to talk about emotions. A large part of what children learn and experience about emotions occurs during early child development. A child will have hit large milestones by the time they reach 5 years old.

From a young age children first discover and become aware of their emotions. From the time they’re babies you can begin helping them identify their emotions. For example, when they’re struggling you can say, “It seems like you’re feeling mad/sad. It’s okay to feel mad/sad.” Empathize with them! You can also share your emotions and tell them what you’re going to do to feel better.

The next step is to assure them that these emotions are normal. Once they recognize that feeling emotions is normal, then they will accept the emotions and become more receptive to the idea of managing their emotions.

To learn how you can help encourage healthy emotional development in your child, read Gottman’s age-by-age guide!

Let’s be careful not to assign an exact age to expected progress. Remember that each child is unique and will develop emotionally on their own timeline. I have a child who struggles with anxiety and is emotionally “behind” as a result. No matter your situation, be present and ready to help them through the emotional storm. Make emotion coaching a habit in your home. Your job is to empower them with the right words so they can better express themselves. Empower them with positive examples of how to manage those negative emotions. Tell them what you’re feeling and what you’re going to do to resolve the difficult emotion.

I want to Teach My Child that Emotions are Okay, but Her Actions Were Not. What do I do?

Don’t worry! You are not alone here! You can certainly reinforce the fact that feeling the emotion is okay AND set limits at the same time! A simple way to do this is to simply say, “It’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to hit.”

When discipline is necessary, you are not disciplining the emotion. You are disciplining the negative behavior. To make sure this concept is crystal clear to your child, you’ll need to set limits and let them know beforehand what the consequence is for their behavior. (I.e. hitting or name-calling.)

For other helpful phrases for when emotions are running high be sure to check out 10 Phrases to Use When Your Child is Upset.

One Last Thing You Need to Know About Emotion Coaching

It’s time for some honesty. When I was first introduced to emotion coaching, I felt so overwhelmed! Those five little steps seemed so daunting for some reason. I think I was afraid I’d leave a step out and would mess everything up.

If you’re feeling like I did, remember this! The concept of emotion coaching is simple and can be condensed into two phases.

Phase 1: Accept your child’s emotions and validate them.

Phase 2: When your child is calm, talk about their emotions and problem-solve with your child.

Think of yourself as a guide. You’re not going to tell your child how they should feel or how to think. Your job as Coach is to help them to first identify their problem and then together brainstorm solutions.

Last thing….**Remember to give yourself grace and allow yourself some time to practice! You’ll be grateful you did!

Thanks for being here! I would love it if you could share either a struggle or a win with emotion coaching in your home!