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Orange text on a white background that reads "5 Steps to Emotion-Coaching Your Child" to the left of a photo of a white woman with a child in her lap. The child is drawing and they are both looking at the paper. | Greenwood Village Counseling for Parents and Relationship Counseling

5 Steps to Emotion-Coaching Your Child

Most parents at some point think, “What in the world am I supposed to say to my child right now?!” “What’s the best way to coach my child through this meltdown?!”

You are not alone. Parents everywhere struggle with knowing what to say to their child, especially when emotions are running high. 

Being able to regulate emotions isn’t something that children are able to do well until they are around age ten. Before then, children might cover their eyes when scared or scream on the floor when angry.

As they grow older, children may learn more advanced ways to control or mask their emotions. However, often times, when kids become adults, they have completely lost touch with their emotions because they’ve become so used to covering them up.

But parents can help! Helping your child learn to regulate their emotions in a healthy way can set them up for better health, happiness, and emotional intelligence.

Common Parenting Mistakes in Responding to Emotions

How do you know what to say to your child when they are screaming because they want pizza for lunch? How do you know if you said the right thing after your child told you they hated you because you didn’t buy them that toy at the store?

First, there are three mistakes that parents make when responding to their child’s emotions

Mistake #1: They use distractions in an attempt to get rid of the child’s emotions.

A parent might say, “Hey, look! Here’s an ipad!” to get their child to stop crying. Although this may work to get the child to stop crying, it does not teach them an effective way to address and manage their feelings.

Mistake #2: They punish their child’s negative emotions.

A parent may choose to send their child to time-out for having a tantrum. This teaches the child that their emotion is something bad. The child might end up keeping sadness hidden from their parent as they age.

Mistake #3: They accept all emotion without putting limits on the behavior.

When they child throws a toy out of frustration, the parent doesn’t do anything other than acknowledge that the child is angry. This teaches the child that they can respond however they want to when they have strong emotion, regardless of how it impacts other people.

This might sound like a lot of restrictions, so it’s important to know that it is okay for parents to mess up! As long as parents give appropriate responses to their child’s emotion most of the time, the child will learn healthy coping skills for all kinds of scenarios!

The Emotion Coaching Formula

So what are parents supposed to do to help their child become better at regulating their emotions? Luckily, there is a formula that parents can use to come up with responses to their children during these intense times, “emotion-coaching.”

Emotion-coaching helps both parents and children:

    • Increases a parent’s awareness of their child’s exact emotions, and allows the parent to tune in to that emotion, creating closeness and building their child’s confidence.
      • Provides a way for parents to learn more about their child and increase their child’s vocabulary.
    • Allows parents to set limits on their child’s behavior that children can listen to, even when they feel upset!

This formula is known as “emotion-coaching.” Children with emotion coaches as parents have been proven to do better in school, have healthier friendships, and be in better physical shape than children with parents who ignore feelings, punish feelings, or accept all feelings without consequences.

The Five Steps to Effective Emotion Coaching

There are five easy steps in emotion coaching that improve with practice. Remember: parents don’t have to follow all five of these steps perfectly every time to have positive results. But keeping them in mind and training yourself and your child in emotion coaching will benefit everyone.

The emotion coaching steps include:

  1. Awareness of what emotion your child is feeling
  2. Naming the emotion for your child
  3. Validating the emotion
  4. Providing alternative behavior for the emotion
  5. Asking your child how they are feeling now

Emotion-Coaching in Action

Nate is the father of five-year-old Cora. Nate tells Cora it is time for her bath, and she says “no.” Nate tells Cora again that she has to take a bath because she is dirty from playing outside. Cora hits Nate’s arm and starts to cry.

Nate realized that Cora must feel tired because she normally loves taking baths and missed her nap that day (step one). Crouching down in front of Cora, sitting with her as she cries, he says calmly, “I think you are feeling tired” (step two). He adds, “That is totally fine that you’re tired. You had a big day today and didn’t get to take a nap. I am tired, too!” (step three).  

He continues saying, “But you cannot hit people when you are tired. If you’re feeling too tired to take a bath, let’s do a really quick bath so that you can get your jammies on sooner” (step four). He sets boundaries by saying, “When we’re feeling tired, instead of hitting people, let’s sit together and breathe for five minutes.”

After this five minutes spent pausing together, Nate says, “Do you still feel sleepy?” (Step five). Cora nods, so Nate says, “Okay, then let’s take a quick bath so you can get in bed soon!” When Cora obeys, Nate tells her, “You are doing such a good job listening, even though you’re tired!”

Nate’s ability to follow the five steps of emotion coaching is much better for his relationship with Cora, and it also helps Cora to feel the difference between getting in trouble for hitting and saying “no” versus getting in trouble for being tired.

As Cora grows up, she will learn that she can take a quick bath to care for herself when she is tired. She listens to her Dad, and knows that he will listen to her. Cora comes to recognize her feelings and take care of herself. 

Remember to be patient with yourself and your child! You are both learning new skills, but they will do wonders in both of your lives with a little persistence.

All parents need and deserve support. Our Denver Tech Center parenting counselors are ready to coach you through the Emotion Coaching process!

Call us today at 303-513-8975 or schedule an appointment online with one of our parenting specialists:  Schedule Appointment

This post was written by our talented family and parent counselor Emma Abel. Emma is trained in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and would love to help you make meaningful connections with your child as you help them with emotion coaching.

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