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sulky child 2465 steps of emotion coaching to help child development 

Professor John Gottman, a USA-based psychology researcher, and colleagues studied families over many years including children longitudinally from 3 years to 15. The researchers ultimately determined that successful parents tended to do 5 very simple things with their children when they were emotional. Gottman calls these five elements “Emotion Coaching.” He discovered that children who had “Emotion Coaches” for parents were on an entirely different, more positive developmental trajectory than the children of other parents.

Much of today’s popular advice to parents ignores emotion,” says Dr. Gottman. “Instead it relies on child-rearing theories that address children’s misbehavior, but disregards the feelings that underlie that misbehavior. The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child. Most parents hope for much more for their children. The secret to being an emotionally intelligent parent lay in how parents interacted with their children when emotions ran hot.”

His studies showed that taking time to help children learn to understand their feelings  and learn about their emotions have these advantages for the child:

  • They form stronger friendships with other children.
  • They calm themselves down more quickly when they get upset.
  • They do better in school.
  • They handle their moods better and have fewer negative emotions.
  • They get sick less often.

He breaks the emotion coaching process down into five steps:

  1. Be aware of emotions - tune in to your child’s feelings and your own. Understand that emotions are a natural and valuable part of life. Observe, listen, and learn how your child expresses different emotions.
  2. Connect with your child - use emotional moments as opportunities to connect. Pay close attention to a child’s emotions and try not to dismiss or avoid them. See emotional moments as opportunities for teaching. Recognize feelings and encourage your child to talk about his or her emotions. Provide guidance before emotions escalate into misbehavior.
  3. Listen to your child - respect your child’s feelings by taking time to listen carefully. Show your child that you understand what he or she is feeling. Avoid judging or criticizing your child’s emotions.
  4. Name emotions - help your child identify and name emotions. Identify the emotions your child is experiencing instead of telling your child how he or she should feel. Naming emotions helps soothe a child. Set a good example by naming your own emotions and talking about them.
  5. Find good solutions - explore solutions to problems together. When children misbehave, help them to identify their feelings and explain why their behavior was inappropriate. Encourage emotional expression, but set clear limits on behavior. Help children think through possible solutions.

Succeeding with emotion coaching depends on letting children know that it’s OK to have bad feelings, without accepting the bad behavior that sometimes accompanies negative emotions.

In May 2016, an evaluation was completed of a project to deliver a programme of Emotion Coaching training to the children and young people’s workforce across five districts of Somerset. The project was commissioned by Somerset County Council Public Health team as part of the Somerset Children and Young People Health and Wellbeing in Learning Programme.

136 champions were trained. 60% were from school or colleges and the rest were from a range of organisations within the children and young people’s workforce in Somerset.

  • 87% agreed that the project and training increased awareness of emotional mental health
  • Emotion Coaching training had a positive impact on the champions themselves by increasing their knowledge of emotional regulation and mental health; by increasing their awareness and understanding of children’s emotions and the link between behaviour and emotions; by improving staff empathy and patience in taking the perspective of the child.
  • 79% agreed that Emotion Coaching training improved children’s behaviour and wellbeing
  • 64% agreed that Emotion Coaching training supported a culture of openness and person-focus.

Resources can be obtained from the Gottman Institute.

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Geoff Knott, 08/11/2016

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